Communication, Education, and Passion: An Interview with Indiana’s State Treasurer Richard Mourdock
Richard Mourdock is Indiana’s State Treasurer. After an over thirty year career in the energy sector working as a geologist and consultant, in which he gained substantial fiscal knowledge, Richard was drawn to politics. As a politician, he has held office as the Vanderburgh County Commissioner from 1994-2002, and Indiana State Treasurer. He was also the Republican nominee for the 8th district of Indiana in 1990 and 1992. Possessing excellent speaking skills and an insatiable knowledge for politics and American History, Richard avidly speaks for his beliefs and for maintaining the American and Hoosier way of life.
WCU: Where did you go to college, what was your major, and how did both play into your early careers and career decisions?
Mourdock: I went to college at Defiance College up in Northwestern Ohio, which is a division three school. I was not one who was really excited about going to college, to be really honest with you. I didn’t feel like I was smart enough to go to college and my parents kept telling me that ‘you are going to go for at least two years and after that it’s up to you.’ So I went that first year not knowing what to expect but found out that I could handle this and for the first time in my life really enjoyed studying. I started out as a Biology major and ended up with a undergraduate degree in the combined fields of Biology, Geology, and Chemistry and because I didn’t know what I wanted to do until basically my senior year, I decided to go on to graduate school and received my M.S. in Geology from Ball State.
That was in 1975 and I did that with the idea that I was going to end up teaching in a university somewhere and go on to receive my PHD but right at that time was the first big energy crisis and they were throwing money at geologists, which seemed unbelievable at the time, so I thought that I would go out west and get some of that money. After that I used geology in the energy business for almost thirty years, mostly with coal but also some oil and gas work. It is a great science and I still love the science, it has opened a lot of doors for me.
WCU: What part of your life would you say influenced you the most as a conservative and as a politician?
Mourdock: Ronald Reagan from 1980-88. I had always had an interest in political science, I’m a huge history buff, and I try and read at least ten pages of American History every night and have done that for almost thirty years. That interest kept bringing me back and in the 1980’s I was fascinated as many were because Ronald Reagan turned the nation around. We were in such a miserable state coming out of the Vietnam era, the Watergate era, and those horrific four years of Jimmy Carter, that we just had to do something different and there was Ronald Reagan with the answer.
Yet, what really provoked me was in 1984. We had a disputed election in the 8th congressional district. A young man by the name of Richard McIntyre ran against the incumbent Frank McCloskey. On election night McIntyre won by like 500 votes, there was a recount and he won by 150 votes and the Republican Secretary of State of Indiana certified him the winner, sent him to Washington D.C. to be sworn in. At that time Tip O’Neil and Jim Wright ran the U.S. House of Representatives and as they were getting ready to swear in all the new freshmen, they pointed their fingers at Mr. Wright and said ‘You’re out, we don’t like the way they count votes in Indiana, and we’re going to recount them.’ So over the next six and a half months a five member committee, three democrats and two republicans, came into the eighth district of Indian. After hand counting votes in fifteen counties, on the last day, at the last hour, after counting 232,286 votes, for the first time Frank McCloskey came ahead by four votes and was sworn in within an hour.
I was so outraged by that I thought to myself, ‘I can do as well as this guy.’ So I started watching him and two years later I decided I was going to run for the U.S. Congress. I gave the first speech of my life announcing I was running for congress and ever since that first splash into politics, I have loved the process, I have loved the competitiveness of it, but I also like the idea of winning people to an argument. I really enjoy having those debates and I will debate anybody, any place, any time on the things that I believe in and it’s a shame that so much of what happens in this building [Indiana State House] and so much of what happens in Washington anymore isn’t about the idea but who brings the idea forward.
WCU: What are your aspirations for your political career, now, having run for Congress and many other political offices in Indiana?
Mourdock: I’ve learned enough about this, that in my case I can’t have aspirations and what I mean by that is I have found that the only way that you can really prepare for the opportunities in politics is to do the best job you can do everyday in what you are doing now. I sense you have to do the best job you can do and then see what doors open and what doors close.
WCU: How would you define the office of the Treasurer of the State of Indiana?
Mourdock: Simultaneously very narrow, which is to say, in the constitution the only description of this office, is that the State Treasurer shall serve as the states chief financial officer. The only constitutional duty I have is to make sure we earn the highest possible grade of interest on the funds of the State of Indiana. In a broader sense, and this is what I love about the job, this is the classic bully pulpit. Though not mentioned in my constitutional duties, I serve as chairman of the wireless 911 board, which puts me in contact with all of the emergency operations around the entire state, I have just started and in fact we haven’t even announced it yet, so we are about to start the Treasurer’s Agricultural Loan Plan, we have an agricultural crisis in Indiana due to the drought and lack of hay production, so we are putting together a loan program and dealing with agricultural problems.
I believe that I have the greatest job in all of Indiana government because I have huge responsibilities, which I like, I have tremendous latitude, I get to be creative, and I don’t think any newspaper reporter knows we exist. It can’t get any better than that.
WCU: What elements of the conservative movement are most vital and how would you define the movement today?
Mourdock: The element that is most vital is the one I think we are most failing on and it is communication. In many ways I think President Bush is an example of why the twenty-second amendment is a bad idea. The twenty-second amendment limits the president’s terms to two. I sometimes think that the day after President Bush was reelected he realized he didn’t have to deal with the media any more, he doesn’t have to make the argument and I don’t think that is a good thing. If he was even thinking about running for a third term, then he would be promoting his ideas more. I think he has the right ideas almost without exception, almost, and I don’t think he is selling those ideas.
What we have to do as a conservative movement is continually educate in the media and not be afraid of getting beat up by the media. I get so fed up with Republicans who won’t make the argument … We have so few conservative leaders anymore who are willing to stand up and say small government is better than big government. To quote Ronald Reagan, ‘The way to stop the growth of government is to stop the flow of money to government.” Those are pretty fundamental principles and instead of fighting for those we are arguing over who can spend the most the fastest.
WCU: If you could say one thing to young conservatives today, especially with liberal faculty ruling most of the nation’s institutions, what would that be?
Mourdock: Do your homework and stand and deliver. Never, ever allow yourself to be silenced or embarrassed by the position you believe in. I don’t care if it is a pro-life position, which is a classic conservative position … but on the issues of what is the government’s role and what is not the government’s role, I think we just have to be more prepared to make the argument. I mentioned before speaking often of American History and when I give a speech along those lines, so often I have people who are a few years younger than myself come up to me and say ‘You know my kids aren’t learning any history in schools anymore.’ Someone observed once that a nation that no longer observes its history is no longer a nation. There’s not that common thread. I believe that is absolutely true. So, do your homework, understand your history, and finally don’t back down. Expect to be beaten up by the press, because that’s what they do. Its very easy because they move by the mob mentality, virtually everyone in the media is a liberal and they take shots at people because they know the people in their peer group are going to give them praise.
WCU: How would you say Governor Mitch Daniels is doing in his mission as our State’s leader and is he making progress in our State?
Mourdock: Mitch is a transformational leader. He is one of the few people I have ever encountered in politics who knows his history, who has done his background, and he is willing to stand and deliver, even if there are one hundred people shouting against him. Major Moves is a perfect illustration of this; when he and his staff first came up with the idea to lease the toll road, he immediately ran into the nine deadly words of government, those nine deadly words being, ‘But we have never done it that way before.’ Believe me that kills every good idea in government and in business – it can just be stifling. Mitch had the fortitude to say that it was the right thing to do and as a result Indiana is the only state of the fifty states to have its entire ten year highway plan fully funded and paid for in cash.
Every time I go to a National Association of State Treasurers meeting, my colleagues come up to me and ask me how did we do it, how did that ever come to happen? It’s because they would like to do something similar but they don’t have leaders who have the same kind of political will. Every issue that Mitch presents is well thought out and he is always willing to argue in support of them. Yet, at the same time, he is politically shrewd enough to know that he needs to play the system upstairs, which is to say the legislature. He is a give and take guy to a point but when all is said and done in the end he gets more of the bargain than he gives up because he is such an effective leader.
WCU: On a related note, with Major Moves, a lot of the detractors of the program are critical of it on the basis of financing and the need. Are these claims really accurate and how do you feel about the program as a whole?
Mourdock: The project as a whole is a brilliant stroke. I can give you a couple of factoids here. Indiana earned more money in interest in the first 116 days after the deal was signed, than it paid off in toll road debt during the prior 52 years, earned more in 116 days than we paid off in 52 years!
I am frequently asked why we sold the road to foreigners. First of all, we didn’t sell it, we leased it and that is a very important term because if they breach the terms of the contract we take it back, they are gone, and we get to keep their 3.85 billion dollars. My question to them is if I were a Spaniard or an Australian and I had 3.85 billion dollars to invest, why wouldn’t I invest that in Spain or Australia? The answer to that is the classic three points of investing: safety, liquidity, and yield. They could put the money here safely, they had good return on their money, and if they had then turned the deal around somehow, which they had the potential of doing in this country, there countries wouldn’t have them. The second question is, if you have 3.85 billion to invest and you put it here and you do well on the investment, making a bunch of money, what are you going to do with that money? If you wouldn’t invest the original sums of your money in your own country, why would you take the next set of money and invest it in your country? We hear every single day, concerns about the balance of trade that we have, the United States is not bringing nearly enough capital in. Our state is leading the fifty states in quote “foreign capital” being reinvested in the United States and I when I say “foreign capital” it’s really our money. Its wealth that was created here that was shipped overseas to buy some product and now we are finding ways to bring that money back, with things like the new Toyota plant up in Lafayette that wasn’t there a few years ago, with the new Honda plant in Greensburg, and with the new investments in the automotive industry down in Columbus. We have all of these new investments coming into this country and specifically into Indiana. Every four years you see that map of blue states and red states but right now we have green states that are green with envy for what Indiana has and is accomplishing. In the end we are doing great and it all comes back to the governor’s leadership.