Brian Howey: Mitch & Morton and the Statehouse charades
Friday, January 13, 2012 4:32 AM
INDIANAPOLIS - Gov. Mitch Daniels, facing west as he gave his final State of the State address Tuesday, essentially stood back to back with the statue guarding the eastern entrance of the Indiana Statehouse – that of Gov. Oliver P. Morton.
A slender strand of history now connects the two. After Copperhead Democrats won the Indiana General Assembly in 1862, a political reaction to Morton's backing of the coming Emancipation Proclamation, Gov. Morton feared they would pull Indiana out of the Union. He sent Republican legislators to Madison, within easy access to Kentucky if Democrats tried to forcibly return them to Indianapolis. Thus, there would be no quorum, no General Assembly until the Republicans won it back in 1864.
Thus, the annual event of a State of the State address would be one where Republican and Democrat legislators would convene in the Indiana House since 1865 to hear the governor's annual report. Until Tuesday night.
Most House Democrats boycotted Gov. Daniels’ address, a political and emotional reaction to what had occurred Tuesday morning in the House Labor Committee. The meeting lasted just six minutes, with Chair Douglas Gutwein, R-Francesville, refusing all amendments and stymieing all discussion and public testimony on HB1001, the Right to Work bill.
“I think the light of democracy just went out in the Indiana House,” said Rep. Clyde Kersey, D-Terre Haute. “I’ve never seen a charade like this in my life,” said Rep. John Bartlett, D-Indianapolis. House Minority Leader B. Patrick Bauer observed, “We have a Chinese democracy, joined by a quest for Chinese wages and Chinese benefits.”
Speaker Bosma would acknowledge after reviewing the hearing tape, that it “did not reflect democracy’s finest hour.”
State Rep. Craig Fry would ask, "What are you afraid of?"
Thus ensued the historic snub. Most House Democrats stayed away. Hoosier television viewers witnessed Daniels speaking to an almost half empty chamber (some senators took the seats of missing House Democrats). As the governor spoke, chanting and yelling could be heard outside the House chambers. "Walk out! Walk out!" the union members chanted.
The question of fear is a relevant one.
Many of the gathered Republican legislators – sensing palpable danger in the gathering protesters – were packing heat, more so than normal.
But politically, things seem stacked in favor of Republicans. The recent Public Opinion Strategies polls show large margins of support for Right to Work. Some 68% of Hoosiers are against the Democratic walkouts. The Republicans have a 60-40 majority in the House and a super majority in the Senate. And there stood Gov. Mitch Daniels, the most successful union-busting governor in Indiana history.
He would make the case to Hoosiers in his speech, saying, "Almost half our fellow states have Right to Work laws. As a group, they are adding jobs faster, growing worker income faster, and enjoying lower unemployment rates than those of us without a law."
So if Republicans have public opinion, huge majorities and a sympathetic governor on their side, why, then, the heavy-handed tactics that have even some of the RTW proponents shaking their heads?
Speaker Brian Bosma has put Right to Work on a fast track with Gutwein as a loyal foot soldier, denying amendments, debate and testimony. It came after the Daniels administration tried to suppress the number of protesters in the Statehouse, and received a stunning rebuke not only from columnists, editorial writers, Democrats and union members, but Constitutional Republicans. Daniels quickly relented.
John Gregg, the former Democratic House Speaker now running for governor, has been mostly silent in recent weeks despite the growing controversy. It's as if he's allowing the GOP to self-destruct. He calls it the "overreach" because he's seen it before. “After the 1994 election, they acted like they had a mandate,” Gregg said. “They came in, and said, ‘Let’s settle some old scores.’ They did it in ‘95 and they did it this time. It’s amazing.
“I became Speaker because of what they did in 1995. And it will make me governor.”
Republicans defend the heavy-handed tactics, citing last year's five-week walkout to Illinois and – at this writing – four days of boycotts this year. Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, called the amendments and testimony “showboating.”
But with every controversial issue – some like Daylight Savings Time fought annually for more than a decade – the process was followed, the testimony heard, even if it had been repeated. Until this month.
With both sides digging in, all the other important legislation – human trafficking, a statewide smoking ban, an online sales tax, local government reform – is held hostage while Daniels and the Republicans try to finish off the unions, which since 2005 had steered $4 million into Democratic campaigns. This isn't so much about job creation as it is about politics.
As for Democrats, this is what happens when, as a party, you become vacuous defenders of the status quo and purveyors of campaign political porn. When a party becomes bereft of ideas and is simply there to obstruct, folks will vote for the other guy.
As for Rep. Bartlett citing this "charade," I recall he presided over a House committee a couple of years ago and tried to spike a package of local government reforms, scurried back and forth between the House floor and Pat Bauer's office to get orders, and then forgot to call for a vote as he gaveled the committee closed.
As in the parlor games we once played, one charade deserves another.