Friday, March 18, 2011

The Forgotten Hoosier House Democrats Fight On

These guys haven't received the media attention that has been bestowed upon Wisconsin and Michigan, but it should be noted that there are still Democrats in this country living in exile to protest state-level draconian Republican policy. Meet the Hoosier House Dems, who have vowed to stay in Illinois for as long as it takes until their concerns are heard.

Top Republicans in the Indiana Legislature say they are through negotiating with boycotting Democrats and will start working around them.

The Democrats who've brought the Indiana House to a four-week standstill said they don't plan to return from Illinois despite efforts to increase pressure on them with higher fines and stronger rhetoric. The Democrats fled Indiana to prevent the House from voting on bills that they consider anti-labor.

Indiana Republicans are trying to claim that it's the Dems that keep changing the targets on "negotiations", but time and time again we have seen what that term means to the Rs that are insistent on pushing their highly partisan brand of governance: You either give them everything they want, or no deal. The Hoosier House Dems aren't buying it.

Before the Democratic walkout began Feb. 22, Republicans — with wide majorities in both the House and Senate — had been advancing a broad agenda that included expansion of charter schools, state vouchers to help parents send their children to private schools, strict limits on collective bargaining for teachers, an Arizona-style crackdown on illegal immigration and prohibiting union representation fees from being a condition of employment at most companies.

But even with the Senate working to move some bills forward, no final legislative action can take place without the return of the House Democrats because the state constitution requires two-thirds of members present to conduct business. Republicans have more than a two-thirds majority in the Senate.

Republicans increased the fines against absent Democrats to $350 a day beginning Monday — up from the $250 a day that was imposed starting last week. Bosma said Republicans on Monday also would consider a formal censure against the 39 Democrats taking part in the walkout.

Democratic Rep. Win Moses of Fort Wayne called the larger fines "a poke in the eye" that would only increase the boycotters' resolve.

Governor Mitch Daniels is playing the "oh, it's so sad that they are being unreasonable but we have to move on now" card - and that's exactly what the Dems want.

House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, said it was "good news" that the Senate was starting budget hearings because he believed senators would give a closer look to the financial impact of the charter school expansion and other matters pushed by House Republicans.

Bauer said Democrats didn't expect to return Monday, when the House is next scheduled to meet.

Indiana's legislative session is scheduled to end April 29th, after which the governor would be required to call a special session to finish the budget. Drop dead date is June 30th. It probably comes as a surprise to those of us in Michigan who are used to lawmakers dragging the work out for an entire year, but most states take care of business in the first few months, and they do it with a part-time, low-pay legislature.

(Michigan's lawmakers are the second-highest paid in the country behind California, and, since they are now demanding radical changes to the terms of state employee compensation under the guise of being competitive with other states and the private sector, it probably should follow that we look at making radical changes to our legislature as well, yes? Perhaps a big cut in pay and part-time status? Shared sacrifice and all? Something to think about.)

Cheers to the Indiana House Dems, and good luck to them on their quest. The Republicans are going to do what they want to do in the end, but at least this will draw attention to the issue and make people stop and notice. Wisconsin Dems stayed away for a few weeks - and these guys are going for months, with big fines per day as well, and they aren't getting the attention they deserve.

Perhaps if a special session is called, the national press will come around. In the meantime, enjoy beautiful Illinois - the new Midwest home for Democrats in exile.