Governor Daniels, first lady reflect as they prepare move on

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — In just about two months, Gov. Mitch Daniels will be leaving the Indiana Statehouse for his suite of offices at Purdue University. Before he departs, 24-Hour News 8 anchor Debby Knox sat down with him and his wife, Cheri, to reflect on his job as the head of state and hers as first lady.

He started with advice for Mike Pence, the governor-elect.

"Think big, keep moving forward," Daniels said. "Indiana has lost its inferiority complex, and good riddance to that. I think the people of this state have shown, first of all, they are willing to support, and secondly, I think now, expect that we'll keep innovating and doing things that are a little different and a little bolder than the rest of the country."

Cheri Daniels admits she was slower to take on a full role as first lady, but it started with daily 10-mile walks.

"I think the walking was for my mental health," she said. "It just gave me an opportunity to go out and think about things, think about my day, and what direction I wanted to go in. And the bonus was I lost some weight along the way. I'm not sure that I had some enlightening moment, where the light bulb went off above my head and made me say, ‘Oh, now, I want to do this.’ I think it was more a process of people that I met that engaged me in conversation and doing things and suggesting things."

She found a role for herself in videos she starred in called Cheri's Chores, which aired in conjunction with radio station HANK-FM.

But she hit her stride when she adopted the State Fair as a place to promote, appearing almost daily during the two-week August event. She even attended the Sugarland concert Aug. 13, accompanied by her then-pregnant daughter, Meredith, who was photographing the concert and was forced to take cover when the dark skies and winds picked up. Minutes later, Cherie heard screams. She lost touch with her daughter.

"I had no idea the extent of what happened, and I first wondered, ‘Where is my daughter?’
And I could not get ahold of her for 45 minutes, constantly trying to get her on her cell phone, to get my son-in-law. I couldn't get anybody. Nobody could get calls through. And I was just waiting in one of the buildings. They had come on just prior to that saying if a storm does come up go to these buildings, I was just trying to get ahold of either one of them. Finally, about 45 minutes later, I got my son-in-law, who told me where my daughter was, and I breathed a sigh of relief."

Cheri also took on heart health as a cause and agreed to talk about the importance of eating a healthy diet to just about anyone who would listen. Through that, she began to enjoy the appearances she made, and now wishes she could have made more.

"I was pleasantly surprised at how much I started to enjoy visiting schools and going around and talking about heart to heart with people. I think one thing I wish I could have done is maybe visit more communities and talk about heart health. Because I feel that's very important and something we can actually do something about. So maybe if I could have spread that word a little bit more, and I guess going hand-in-hand with that, I just wish our state had moved up a little higher and being a little healthier."

Mitch and Cheri Daniels’ greatest joy today may be their two grandchildren. It is the reason the two have agreed to live apart, at least in the beginning of the governor’s tenure as president of Purdue.

"She's a really good grandma,” Mitch said of Cheri. “She was a great mom, and she's a wild grandma."

For his part, Gov. Daniels is preparing to take the reins at Purdue by reading stacks of books about higher education and the occasional history book.

"I'm reading a lot about higher education, been telling my friends, ‘I know there are some students on the Purdue campus studying harder than I am, but not very many.’ I am really hitting the books, and I'm talking to people, trying my best to get ready for what will be a very new experience. So I've read a lot of books about big issues in higher ed, and a lot of history. I'm reading a great book now about Great Britain and Russia tussling over India during the 19th Century. It's all about Afghanistan and places like that, so you can see a lot of the seeds of where we are now."

The governor leaves the state in the best fiscal shape of just about any in the country. He has some regrets, including the failed attempt to transform Indiana's welfare system. But supporting and implementing property tax caps, education reform and Major Moves are all highlights of his tenure. But he points to one statistic he believes is the trend that shows Indiana is on the right path.

"Last year more college graduates moved into Indiana than moved out,” he said. “Best we can tell, it's a huge change. I hope it's not a one-year change. And that would be as good a marker as any I could think of, for all the things we tried to do, we hope to do, to make this a better place."  

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