The opening day of the 2012 Indiana General Assembly
General Assemblystarted with a surrender and then
veered to a slowdown.
Back to business as usual.
The surrender came Tuesday morning, less than three hours before the Indiana
House of Representatives and Senate were set to gavel themselves into action.
The new Statehouse security measures
Statehouse security measuresannounced on Dec. 30 had drawn blistering
criticism from Democrats, organized labor, open government advocates and, well,
frankly just about everyone but the people who drew the rules up. Those
measures would have limited the number of people in the people's house to 3,000
people at a time, including the 1,700 state employees who work there.
Last year's labor rallies pulled in more than 1,300 people on slow days.
Democrats and labor saw the restrictions as a Republican
attempt to discourage dissent on the controversial right-to-work
measure the GOP wants to push through this legislative session. That bill
would make it illegal for employers to require workers to pay fees to a union
as a condition of employment. A similar measure last year prompted
massive demonstrations and a five-week-long walkout by House Democrats
Gov. Mitch Daniels
Mitch Danielstold me that the new security rules and the right-to-work
battle were "separate issues," but he pulled the plug on them anyway and
announced that things were going back to the way they were in a late-morning
That way, he said, "there won't have been a needless argument."
Daniels' distinction between right to work and ditching the new security rules
didn't stop Democrats from claiming victory and momentum almost immediately.
When Rep. John Day, D-Indianapolis, heard that the restrictions had been
lifted, he almost shouted.
"The First Amendment lives. James Madison would be proud," he said.
That euphoria carried into the early part of the afternoon.
Outside the Statehouse, protestors from labor unions around the state lifted
signs that said, among other things, "America is a union" and "Storm the
castle," as motorists driving by the Statehouse honked their horns or shook
their fists, depending upon which side of the right-to-work dispute they
The high spirits faded as the afternoon progressed.
The House was supposed to go in to session at 1:30 p.m. That time came and
went. So did 2 p.m. And 2:30 p.m.And 3:00 p.m.
As the day dragged on, the crowds drifted away. Getting fired up to storm
the castle is one thing. Staying excited while you're watching paint dry
Finally, at 3:30 p.m., Democratic leader Rep. Pat Bauer
Pat Bauer, D-South Bend, held a press conference. He stood at a
lectern with 33 Democrats behind him.
Bauer raised objections to the way Republicans were trying to "ram" right to
work through the legislature, but didn't say whether he and his fellow
Democrats would return to the floor of the House or whether they would stay
House Speaker Brian Bosma
Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, reacted to
the Democrats' absence from the floor of the chamber with predictable, if
somewhat synthetic outrage. He decried the other party's tactics and said
that he couldn't see a way that right to work would be taken off the table.
He and Bauer traded barbs in their dueling press conferences with the sort of
dispirited energy of aging rock stars who have been on
the road way too long. Another opening, another show.
About the only interesting thing that came of their skirmishing was a proposal
Bauer made at the press conference.
He said that Bosma and Republicans should hold
hearings around the state about right to work to see where the public stands on
the issue. He and other Democrats cited a Ball State University poll on
the issue that showed that 48 percent of the Hoosiers surveyed didn't even
understand what right to work is.
If Bosma would agree to hold those hearings, Bauer
hinted – but only hinted – that Democrats might return to the
After Bauer finished the press conference, I asked several Democrats if the
hearings-around-the-state suggestion was a trial balloon. They all said
One of them said, laughing, "Sometimes those Hail Mary passes do connect."
"It better, because that's about all we have left," he said.
John Krull is
executive editor of The Statehouse File, director of Franklin College's Pulliam
School of Journalism and host of No Limits, WFYI 90.1 FM Indianapolis.