Government isn’t a business, but it does have an obligation to conduct its operations in a business-like way.
According to recent news reports, three state agencies — the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Health and the State Budget Agency — paid more than $130,500 in late fees in fiscal years 2011 and 2012. The payments were uncovered in recently released audits by the Indiana State Board of Accounts.
The penalties were assessed because the agencies failed to pay claims on time. The audit reports say the delays resulted, in “an unnecessary use of state funds.” The reports are just one more bit of embarrassing evidence of this administration’s tenuous grasp on fiscal competence. (Remember that 300 million dollars they “found” awhile back? Or the payments “inadvertently” withheld from local government agencies?)
The report is not just a reminder that our Governor’s much-touted business acumen is mostly hype. It is also a reminder to those of us who vote that the positions politicians are spending millions of dollars to win require not-so-glamorous skills. Running state government requires an understanding of a whole range of management practices, many of which go beyond the skills required by private-sector enterprises: building bridges with fractious legislators, demanding accountability from those you’ve appointed to run departments, an acquaintance with the intricacies of policy formation, and an ability to communicate with citizens.
Campaigns test the ability to connect with enough voters to get elected, but otherwise, require no evidence that a candidate possesses any of these skills, and most have not held previous positions that demanded them. So we get rigid ideologues who–despite their pro-business rhetoric–never met a payroll, never had to build a team from competing factions, never had to be accountable to anyone who didn’t agree with them.
I’ve had my differences with the Daniels Administration, and I’ve aired many of those differences here. But the Governor is pragmatic and intelligent, and has done many things well (been to the BMV lately?? Much improved.)
Mike Pence is a different matter entirely. Pence is running a strategically brilliant campaign for Governor–a campaign intended to “upgrade” the Pence 1.0 version to a kinder, gentler, and infinitely more competent Pence 2.0. His 30-second spots portray someone very different from the culture warrior whose entire focus while in Congress has been on de-funding Planned Parenthood, working with Todd Akin to define “legitimate” rape and outlaw most existing birth control methods, and ensure that GLBT folks remain second-class citizens. Fortunately for women and gays, Pence has been a much more effective Tea Party spokesman than legislator: in his eleven years in Congress, he’s sponsored 63 bills and has been successful in getting exactly none of them passed. Only three ever made it out of committee.
Unfortunately for Pence and the other “true believers” who have come to dominate the GOP, governing involves a lot of non-glamorous, practical tasks where conciliation, an open mind and sound information are required. Self-righteousness, ostentatious piety and intransigence don’t contribute much to transportation policy or parks maintenance–or to fiscal accountability.