When House Republicans made their case for being returned to power in last year's election after being out of power for four years, there was a lot of talk about fiscal restraint and education reform. There was no talk about a push to enact a right to work law. The issue has drawn thousands of rank-and-file union members to the State House to demonstrate against the anti-union measure. The promise of ground-breaking reforms buoyed by the Republicans' 60 to 40 majority control of the chamber now is at risk. Democrats, predictably, used the hammer they have repeatedly used effectively to their advantage whenever they've been in the minority to bring business to an abrupt halt by walking. At least some of them fled to neighboring Illinois, just as Wisconsin Democratic lawmakers fled their State House in Madison to prevent passage of a law that would curtail collective bargaining rights of public employees.
The House cannot conduct business unless it has at least two-thirds of the members (66) present to constitute a quorum. Democrats fled to Illinois or elsewhere--anywhere but the State House where business must be conducted--all because of Republicans' insistence on pushing the right to work legislation passed out of committee only last week as the deadline for passing bills out of the first house reached a close. Worse for the Republicans is Gov. Daniels' refusal to back their plan to push right to work and his emphatic pronouncements today that he will not order his State Police to forcibly bring back Democratic members to the State House and that he is taking their side in the debate. Mary Beth Schneider of the Star explains Daniels'
Daniels, a Republican, supported their right to deny Republicans a quorum to do business and the rights of labor unions to protest at the Statehouse.House Republicans, void of any support from their Republican governor, won't fare any better with the forces of public opinion by picking this particular fight. House Speaker Brian Bosma should have learned from the horrific misjudgement House Republicans made under former House Speaker Paul Mannweiler after they captured control of the House in the 1994 elections. The Republican majority pushed legislation to repeal the state's prevailing wage law, which resulted in the largest public protests being staged at the State House by riled up union members in the state's history. They double-downed on their risk strategy by attempting to redraw legislative boundaries to protect their unlikely majority they reached after the 1994 Republican wave year. Neither of those issues had been part of the campaign when Republicans sought to recapture the House in 1994; they just came out of nowhere. House Republicans lost badly in the court of public opinion on both fronts and were forced to fold on both. Democrats were promptly returned to power in the House in the 1996 elections.
“The activities of today are perfectly legitimate part of the process,” he said. “Even the smallest minority, and that’s what we’ve heard from in the last couple days, has every right to express the strength of its views and I salute those who did.”
And, he added, “I’m not sending the state police after anybody. I’m not going to divert a single trooper from their job protecting the Indiana public. I trust that the people’s consciences will bring them back to work. I choose to believe that our friends in the minority, having made their point, will come back and do their duty, the jobs that they are paid to do.” . . .
“My view on this is well-known to the leadership on both sides, well-known to the public. I haven’t changed a single thing,” he said today. “I don’t attempt to dictate the agenda. I’m not in a position to, really, of the separate and free-standing, superior, branch of government. And for that matter Speaker (Brian) Bosma can’t always dictate to his members when they have a strong point of view. But for reasons I’ve explained more than once I thought there was a better time and place to have this very important and legitimate issue raised.”
I abhor the extraordinary majority requirement for conducting business in either legislative chamber, but it's a constitutional requirement so we're stuck with it. Democrats have employed a take-no-prisoners approach whenever they are in the minority in the House to block any legislation that feel hits its base constituency too hard. When the shoe is on the other foot, House Republicans will threaten to walk but never make good on their threat. They don't have to because they can count on the permanent Republican majority in the Senate to block anything Republicans view as too offensive to its base constituency. Instead of trotting out the perennial marriage discrimination amendment to bash gays, House Republicans should have been pushing a constitutional amendment to remove the requirement that two-thirds of the members be present to have a quorum for conducting business. At least then its majorities could pursue their legislative agenda without fear of the Democrats throwing another one of their temper tantrums and walking out on their jobs to shut the place down.
Personally, I think there are strong arguments for enacting a right to work law. Most of the 22 states with right to work laws have fared better economically in recent years than those with mandatory union shop laws. I noticed that among the 10 states in the country with the lowest unemployment rate, 7 of the states have right to work laws. By comparison, the states with the highest unemployment rates tend to be union shop states with a few exceptions. Of course, wage rates are generally higher in union shop states on average compared to right to work states, which is why many businesses with blue collar jobs choose right to work states over union shop states to open up new plants and facilities. Workers in right to work states make up some of that difference in wages by not having to shell out money for mandatory union dues. Right to work states are generally located in the South, Southwest and the Great Plains states, while union shop states dominate the Midwest, Northeast and West Coast regions. It's a worthy debate, but it's probably not worth risking the larger fiscal, education and government reform agenda House Republicans have been pursuing in concert with Gov. Daniels.
UPDATE: House Democratic Leader Pat Bauer released a statement tonight listing many more demands than just dropping the right to work legislation. They want Republicans to drop education reform measures, including school vouchers and charter school initiatives opposed by teachers unions. They are also fighting an unemployment insurance bill that attempts to put the state on a footing to begin paying back the more than $2 billion debt the state owes the federal government because the state's unemployment trust fund is bankrupt. There are multiple legislative demands being made by the House Democrats, including the state budget bill. This tactic by the House Democrats is complete bullshit. Hey, you lost the election. You don't get to decide the entire legislative agenda. Earlier, Gov. Daniels believed House Democrats only walked to block vote on the right to work bill, but it is now quite clear the House Democrats are determined to block every single major reform measure proposed this session, effectively nullifying the election of a House Republican majority. This is nothing short of taking hostages like terrorists and demanding ransom be paid before they are willing to conduct the public's business. I believe the House should simply convene and conduct business without the quorum and let the Democrats take their case to the courts. The Speaker should immediately order the suspension of all salary and benefits to Democratic members of the House and their staff until they return for business. Boot the entire Democratic staff from the building and lock the doors to their offices until the Democratic members return. Let's not negotiate with terrorists. Here's the laundry list of the terrorists demands:
Charter School Expansion.
School Vouchers. Allows a family of four making over $80,000 a year to receive taxpayer dollars to send their children to a private school.
Private Takeover of Public Schools. Allows the state of Indiana to take over poorly performing schools and for these schools to be managed by for-profit companies. It removes local decision making in schools.
Public School Waiver of State Laws. Allows school boards to seek waivers of almost any school law or regulation.
"Right to Work."
Public Works Projects and Common Construction Wage.
Employee Representations. Ends employee rights to join a union by secret ballot and opens employees up to retaliation and firing by an employer who finds out they are trying to use their right to bargain. This is preempted by federal law. Will require the state to use taxpayer dollars to defend this legislation.
"Right to Work" for Public Employees. Removes collective bargaining rights at the local level.
UPDATE II: WTHR-TV tracked down the terrorists , who were holding up at a motel in Champaign-Urbana. A news crew caught up with four of them, Mara Candelaria Reardon, Dan Stevenson Greg Porter and Vernon Smith out on a shopping trip. WTHR also learned the Indiana Democratic Party is picking up the tab for the 37 Democratic lawmakers who fled to the Land of Lincoln until their terrorist demands are met. Reardon claimed they were working on amendments at the motel and fighting the radical agenda of the House Republicans. Think about it. Outside interests are paying for the Democrats to hold up at a hotel in another state instead of conducting the people's business while they are being paid by taxpayers to conduct business as this state's elected representatives. What if employers were forced to pay workers while they go on strike and shut down their employer's business? It's really no different when you think about it.