The Hoosier Who Would be President

When Gov. Mitch Daniels told the Washington Post last month that he “will now stay open to the idea” of a 2012 presidential bid, Indiana’s scourge became the nation’s. Americans who worry that environmental exposures to industrial chemicals can lead to chronic illnesses and diseases like autism, asthma and cancer should be on alert:

Mitch Daniels is not your typical laughing-stock Hoosier politician, like Dan Quayle or Evan Bayh. He poses a serious threat to human health and the environment.

For example, from 1990 to 2001, coincident with the epidemics of autism and other developmental disabilities, Daniels shilled in senior executive positions for Eli Lilly & Co. The Indianapolis-based pharmaceutical company is ultimately responsible for every shot of mercury-containing vaccine injected into the developing bodies of American children nationwide.

Just last month the Obama administration selected Daniels’ first Indiana health commissioner, Dr. Judy Monroe, to be deputy director at the Centers for Disease Control. Indiana media listed helping “improve Indiana’s childhood immunization ranking” among her accomplishments. Daniels appointed a former Lilly medical director to replace her.

Meanwhile, one in five Indiana children living in the Ohio River Valley receive special education. And in rural East Central Indiana, citizens whose bucolic farmscapes have been soaked in hog and cow manure by Daniels’ agricultural policy sometimes have to wear gas masks.

Seriously. As citizen activists, Randolph County’s Barbara Sha Cox and Allen Hutchison monitor the air for ammonia and hydrogen sulfide emanating from factory farms that Daniels lured to the state. They have to wear gas masks to keep from getting sick.

Cox and Hutchison’s experiences living with Daniels’ idea of rural development are chronicled in author David Kirby’s new book Animal Factory: The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy, and Poultry Farms to Humans and the Environment.

They are also among several Indiana farm families suing Daniels’ corporate farm buddies for destroying their health, property values and quality of life. Their attorneys, Richard Middleton from Savannah, Ga., and Charles Speer from Kansas City, Mo., won an $11-million jury award in a similar case in Kansas City on March 5.


Mitch Daniels is not a native Hoosier. He was born on April 7, 1949, in Monongahela, Pa., and spent his childhood there, in Tennessee and Georgia before his family moved to Indiana when he was 10. He attended North Central High School in Indianapolis, which, in the 1960s, would have been better named the “Indiana School for the Rich.”

President Lyndon Johnson named Daniels Indiana’s Presidential Scholar upon his high school graduation in 1967. For college, he headed back east to Princeton University for undergrad and Georgetown University Law Center for a law degree in 1979. He graduated both with honors.

Early in his adulthood Daniels committed his talents to Indiana Republicans, working for what might be called the intellectual side of an otherwise brutish group of backwoods politicians and toxic special interests, like King Coal and Big Pharma.

The year after he graduated high school, Daniels worked on the unsuccessful senatorial campaign of William Ruckleshaus, who would eventually serve as U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator.

While in college, Daniels interned for Indianapolis Mayor Richard Lugar, a Rhodes Scholar, and in 1971 joined Lugar’s office, rising to the position of principal assistant. He followed Lugar to the Senate in 1977 and served as his chief of staff until 1982.

Daniels successfully managed three Lugar senatorial campaigns and became executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, when Lugar was elected its chairman. He served in that capacity in 1983 and ’84.

In 1985, Daniels got his first scent of the White House, serving as chief political advisor and liaison to President Ronald Reagan.


In 1990, Daniels stepped into the revolving door through which he would circulate the rest of his career at Lilly, after serving three years as executive director at the Hudson Institute, an arch-conservative think tank that was headquartered in Indianapolis from 1984 and to 2004.

Daniels served as president of Lilly’s North American operations from 1993-97 and senior vice president for corporate strategy until he revolved back to government in 2001 as George W. Bush’s first Office of Management and Budget director. Bush gave Daniels the nicknames My Man Mitch and The Blade for his ravenous approach to budget cutting.

While in that position, Daniels was implicated in the first great scandal of the George W. Bush administration when someone secretly slipped legal immunity for Lilly and other pharmaceutical companies from vaccine-induced injuries to children into the Homeland Security Bill of 2002. The mercury preservative used in vaccines was called thimerosal.

Daniels told the Washington Post on Nov. 28, 2002, that not only was he not involved in what came to be known as the “Lilly Rider,” he expressed ignorance of thimerosal. “I had not even heard of thimerosal until [now], which is not surprising because Eli Lilly stopped making thimerosal a decade before I began working there,” he told the Post.

While it was true that Lilly, whose scientists invented and patented thimerosal in 1930, no longer manufactured it when Daniels joined the company, debate about the compound’s safety and Lilly’s liability for it roiled worldwide throughout his time there.


Serendipity has also played a role in the Lilly executive’s political fortunes. He rode a wave of anti-Democratic Party sentiment in 2004 and was elected Indiana governor. Four years later he benefited from a severely fractured Indiana Democratic Party and was re-elected, despite many of his policies’ widespread unpopularity.

When he campaigned for governor in 2004, Daniels vowed to double pork production in Indiana. After taking office, he actively recruited out-of-state Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), which house thousands of animals and millions of gallons of their waste, releasing enormous amounts of toxins into the air, water and land in rural places like Randolph County.

Data from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) showed that 80 of Indiana’s 92 counties had CAFOs in them in 2007. IDEM’s Web site says the total number of CAFOs is around 625 today.

According to the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory, the volume of toxins released into the air, water and land by Indiana industries jumped from 136 million pounds in 2004 when Daniels was elected to 230 million in 2008 when he was re-elected.
Lilly plants in Lafayette and Indianapolis report toxic releases of 353,612 and 29,428 pounds respectively.

One month after his 2008 re-election, Daniels dissolved IDEM’s Office of Enforcement.

Imagine President Mitch Daniels.

STEVEN HIGGS is author of the “Autism and the Indiana Environment Blog,” an adjunct lecturer at the Indiana University School of Journalism and editor of The Bloomington Alternative. He can be reached at





Steven Higgs is a retired journalist and author who lives in Bloomington, Ind., and teaches journalism at the Indiana University Media School. He can be reached at