Russ Stilwell: Time to get out of the box
Monday, March 21, 2011 5:23 AM
BOONVILLE - Last weekend (March 12-13) I decided to take a trip to Urbana, Ill., and see firsthand what all the fuss is about in this college dominated community just a few miles from our Hoosier border. When I pulled into the parking lot of the Comfort Inn I knew right away that House Dems weren’t holed up in a four-star hotel.
And no, there wasn’t a hot tub, as Mitch likes to suggest from time to time. What I did see was a group of special Hoosiers defying all odds to ensure that their beloved state continues to value fairness in the workplace and classroom.
As I visited with these former colleagues, I realized that they’re not in Urbana to score political points, and they’re not in the Land of Lincoln for the purpose of offending the new Republican majority.
They know they are the last assemblage left in the Hoosier State that can prevent the wholesale destruction of the middle class and the union members who sustain the middle class.
They sent strong signals to the other side that they are prepared to come back, debate the issues and finish their collective work if one particularly offensive bill is rescinded Seems like a simple solution to such a complex stalemate. But politics and Type A personalities never make for simple solutions.
I have known House Democrat leader Pat Bauer for a long time, and I’ll readily admit that he can be difficult to deal with from time to time. But I also know a lot about this man that many folks don’t. After spending several hours with him this past weekend, I renewed my belief that no one, and I mean no one, would relish rolling in the muddy ring of politics with Pat Bauer.
Unlike most politicians, Pat Bauer is an excellent listener. He takes ridicule and Bauer-bashing with a grain of salt, although sometimes I think it bothers him more than he shows. But he is one thing above all else – one tough in-your-face leader.
Contrary to his critics, he doesn’t always pick the fights. Most just come his way and unlike many of his contemporaries, Pat Bauer never walks away from a fight. And if that fight is for the things he champions most, there is not a fiercer combatant than the feisty out-spoken Irishman from South Bend, Indiana!
Pat Bauer champions the fight for the little people (and no, not because he is short) and those that need a voice. He champions the fight of the middle class, public schools and the rights of Hoosiers to have a union and earn a decent wage. Sometimes I think that is his calling.
Anyone engaged in a political fight with Pat Bauer had better be well prepared and ready to go the full 15 rounds.
I really don’t know what round this legislative stalemate is in, but I know that Pat Bauer has a lot of rounds left in him. He won’t bite off your ear to end the fight, but when the bout is over, you might wish he had.
That brings me to the point of this article. Are Pat Bauer and the House Democrats in a box?
Some might suggest that these temporary residents of the Land of Lincoln are in a box. Others might suggest that Speaker Bosma and his band of 60 are in a box.
One should not be surprised that both caucuses are in a box. On any given day these Type A personalities are boiling, enraged, fighting mad, livid, singing songs in caucus, or just resigned to another useless day of waiting.
Like most Hoosiers, I would like for this stalemate to end. So I thought I would do what any enterprising Hoosier would do: Find out how to get out of a box.
Peanuts and the coconut
In Africa and parts of India the natives use a unique technique to catch monkeys. They hollow out one end of a coconut and tie a long line to it. Then they put peanuts inside the coconut and hide it in the bush. When a monkey discovers the coconut is filled with nuts, he works his hand through the small hole in one end of coconut to grab a fist full of nuts, but finds that when he makes a fist to grab the peanuts he is unable to pull his hand out through the hole.
Once the monkey has his hand inside the coconut, the natives slowly pull in the line attached to the coconut. No matter how loud the monkey squeals, he remains trapped as long as his fist is clenched. The monkey is in a box and the only way he can have the peanuts is to give up his freedom.
It looks to me that Speaker Bosma and the House Republicans are just like the proverbial monkey. They won’t let go of their over-reaching fist-clenching agenda on common construction, and every day Leader Bauer and his band of 39 pull that string ever closer to the brink of legislative destruction.
What is a box?
A box is a metaphor for a situation that restricts your freedom. House D’s stuck in Urbana and House R’s stuck in a half-empty legislative chamber are in boxes. But there is a way out of every box. One only needs to be willing to pay the price.
When you remain in a box, you pay a price. The House D’s are feeling the wrath of Hoosiers for not doing the job they were elected to do. House R’s are on the receiving end of a barrage of outrage from many of the voters who put them in office. I can’t believe either side is enjoying its position.
The way out of the box is to pay a price.
The House D’s have served notice that their price is one lonely legislative arrow in the overloaded Republican quiver of arrows.
The House R’s? Seems their price was $250 daily fines, a poorly sung melody in their caucus that pissed off the D’s and a Republican letter serving notice that their agenda was nothing short of the Second Crusade.
Pay the price and get out of the box?
House D’s were probing for a rallying cause, and the House R’s sent them a Right to Work curve ball that was hit out of the park all the way to Urbana. It’s time for Speaker Bosma to unclench his fist full of labor-troubling peanuts and this “session of all sessions” can begin anew.
When you are trapped in a box you should remember that Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” claims that there is nothing more dangerous than a foe that has no way out but to fight. And if the fight goes another round, my money is on the tough-nosed guy in the corner protecting the little guy on the street. My money’s on Pat Bauer and the House Democrats.
Stilwell is the former Democratic House majority leader.