As the Statehouse walkout enters into its second full week, the question is becoming: "How soon will they be back?"
For those of you not fully familiar with the details, Indiana House Democrats are protesting the Republican push of "right to work" legislation. Under "right-to-work," an individual cannot be compelled to pay union dues or fees as a condition of their employment. Proponents say "right to work" will help create jobs and make Indiana more competitive with other states. Opponents call it a race to the bottom and the "right to work for fewer wages."
Last year, Democrats left the state and relocated to Illinois for 45 days. In response, Republicans passed an anti-bolting statute which could allow for fines of up to $1,000 per day if a lawmaker denies a quorum for more than three days.
House Speaker Brian Bosma hasn't said when he would start levying fines, but has indicated that he is willing to do so if the Democrats don't come back. Democrats say the public needs more time to understand the issue and they held hearing this past weekend in Ft. Wayne and Evansville.
As an observer of this process, I'm focused on the question: "How soon will they be back?"
We have already seen some cracks in the Democrats united front. Two state lawmakers have recently "come over the wall," so to speak. Rep. Ed DeLaney of Indianapolis and Dale Grubb of Covington. Both oppose "right to work" but think the best way to fight it is on the floor of the House and not held up in caucus. Other members who have been on the floor are Democratic Reps. Steve Stemler of Jeffersonville, Peggy Welsh of Bloomington, and Dave Cheatham of North Vernon. That makes five Democrats who have broken ranks. If two more Democrats leave the caucus that will make for 67 members on the floor and a quorum can be held. More important than that is the fact during his most recent news conference, House Minority Leader Pat Bauer admitted that Democrats can't stay gone indefinitely. So like I said, "How soon will they be back?"
The problem with this walkout is that Democrats did this last year and the sequels are never as good as the original.The protest crowds are smaller and the Democratic strategy doesn't seem as focused. For example, shortly after Governor Daniels rescinded the limits on Statehouse access, Democrats could have declared victory and marched on the House floor emboldened and Republicans would have been a little gun shy. Instead, the Democrats stayed behind closed doors and let the perfect media opportunity get away from them.
There is some speculation that Democrats could be back as soon as this week once they have completed their hearings. There is also a school of thought that some will return shortly after the first set of $1,000 fines are levied. Either way, they will be back, right to work will pass, and then everyone will ask what was the point of holding out?
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