Proving that their party’s disrespect for both the will of the voting public and the legislative process isn’t confined to Wisconsin, Democrats in Indiana have also fled the state to prevent the legislature from achieving a quorum necessary to conduct state business. Incredibly, even as they remain in hiding, they are issuing demands regarding certain issues. Even more incredibly, such tactics have borne fruit: Republican Governor Mitch Daniels urged Republican legislators to set aside “right to work” legislation, and Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma ® obliged, relegating it to a study commission, which will have until next year to report back to the General Assembly. That’s not good enough for Democrats. They still intend to remain AWOL.
Apparently there’s a method to their madness. Due to Indiana’s legislative rules, bills introduced in that state have a fixed timeline to be read and voted on, and Tuesday was the last day 23 bills (including the “right to work” bill) which had already cleared committees, could also clear a procedural requirement necessary to present them to the full House. When Democrats stayed away, those bills were killed. Thursday is the deadline for an additional 25 bills to be presented for further amendments on the floor of the House. By Friday, any House bill failing to receive an up-or-down vote by the 67 members necessary to achieve a quorum will also be dead. Furthermore, the current legislative session ends on April 29, at which point legislators can return home–unless Governor Mitch Daniels calls for a special session.
The current makeup of the Indiana legislature prompted the move by House Democrats. While they are are out-numbered by Republicans who have a 60-40 margin in the 100 member House, they can still hold up business in that chamber. In the Senate, Republicans have a 37-13 “super majority,” meaning they can establish a quorum without a single Democrat present. Thus, House Democrats, currently hiding in plain sight in Urbana, Illinois, have decided to stay put unless House Republicans kill several more pieces of legislation Democrats consider objectionable.
The dozen or so “objectionable” bills focus on labor- and education-related topics, such as school vouchers, which would direct public money to private schools, the ability to hand failing public schools over to private companies, restrictions on collective bargaining by teachers, the aforementioned ”right-to-work” bill prohibiting union membership as a requirement for employment–and the state budget bill.
“We will remain here until we get assurances from the governor and House Speaker Brian Bosma that these bills will not be called down in the House at any time this session,” said a statement issued by the Democrats’ House leader. “Our leader, State Rep. B. Patrick Bauer (D-South Bend), is ready to talk to the Speaker any time. All the Speaker [Bosma] has to do is call.”
Speaker Bosma wasn’t buying.“We will not concede to a list of demands,” he said in a statement released at 11:30 Tuesday night. “Instead, we expect Democrats to return to do the work they were elected to do. If they are unwilling to do so they should step down and be replaced with individuals willing to participate in the democratic process.”
Yet on Wednesday, Bosma conceded on right to work legislation, due to pressure from Governor Daniels, who claimed that while he supported the various bills in spirit, their “controversial nature” would put the legislature “off track.” Daniels might be given a certain amount of slack by Indiana voters due to the fact that on his first day in office in 2005, he rescinded the right of collective bargaining for thousands of state employees which had allowed them to negotiate pay, benefits and work rules. He also canceled settlement agreements that included provisions on transfers, layoffs and other items for 25,000 state workers as well. At the time, Daniels claimed the arrangements “delayed his efforts to reform state government.”
Even so, Mr. Daniels’ concession is surprising. At a recent meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the Indiana governor, who may be a Republican presidential candidate in 2012, gave what many attendees considered the finest speech of the session. In that speech, he referred to the kind of debt that is crushing both state and federal governments the as “new Red Menace” which “our nation has amassed for itself over decades of indulgence.” And while he made reference to the necessity of procuring “big majorities” for “big changes,” he also referred to “draft dodging” opponents “who can accept, or even welcome, the ballooning of the state, regardless of the cost in dollars, opportunity, or liberty, and the slippage of the United States into a gray parity with the other nations of this earth.”
Perhaps sensing that some clarification of his position was necessary, Daniels, according to several news reports, said “he will hold special sessions from now until the New Year and send the bills to the House Democrat’s leader if the Democrats persist in killing bills with their walkout.”
The people of Indiana? Despite Barack Obama winning the state in 2008, Republicans picked up 12 seats in the House and 3 in the Senate in 2010. Indiana currently has a budget shortfall of $763 million, which, according to the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute, a nonpartisan government research group, could hit $1.3 billion in 2012, barring a drastic improvement in the economy or the legislature’s refusal to enact deep spending cuts. The primary drivers of that deficit? ”Increased teacher, police and firefighter pension payments, as well as statutory increases in Medicaid,“ said the Institute.
Thus, as in Wisconsin, a Republican majority in both houses of the legislature and a Republican Governor are attempting to confront a daunting fiscal reality, even as their Democratic colleagues run away from their responsibilities. For that, Republicans are being labeled “extremists” by both public employee union members and Democratic legislators, who apparently believe that the democratic process which forms the bedrock of our republic is something that can be treated with contempt whenever it doesn’t accrue to their interests. Such an attitude can best be described as thuggery. It is a thuggery illuminated by Massachusetts Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA), who told a group of union supporters on Wednesday that ”[E]very once in awhile you need to get out on the streets and get a little bloody when necessary.”
Who would be the unions’ opponents in such a fight? The American taxpaying public. Are Democrats ready to engage them in “bloody” battles? Will more Democratic legislators in other states across the country “opt out” of democracy in order to satisfy one of their core alliances? Will union members themselves engage in strikes or other disruptive strategies in order to intimidate the public? It is too soon to tell. But it is not too soon to imagine where such ham-fisted tactics may lead: in 2012, Democrats may look back on the shellacking they took in the 2010 election as the good old days, by comparison.
Arnold Ahlert is a contributing columnist to the conservative website JewishWorldReview.com.
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