Following the lead of Democrats in the Wisconsin Senate, Democrats in the Indiana House left their state for Illinois Tuesday to block anti-union legislation from advancing. The group of three dozen Indiana lawmakers holed up in a hotel in the college town of Urbana, Illinois, about an hour from the Indiana border.
But despite the similar tactics, the situations in Indiana and Wisconsin are different in critical ways. Most importantly, it is Republican Governor Scott Walker who is leading the charge to strip public employee unions of their collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin. But Indiana's Mitch Daniels, who is pondering a potential White House bid in 2012, chastised his fellow Republicans for pushing legislation to curb the powers of unions in private business.
"The activities of today are a perfectly legitimate part of the process," Daniels said, according to the Indianapolis Star . "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."
Daniels said he would not send Indiana state police to look for the missing Democrats or bring them back to the Capitol. The Northwest Indiana Times reports that the Democrats may not return to Indianapolis for the rest of the week. The Star says the caucus wants to stop a bill to curtail collective bargaining and another to increase the use of school vouchers.
In a telephone interview with Stateline, Indiana state Representative Phil GiaQuinta said he decided to leave Indianapolis because Republicans, who hold a 60-40 majority in the chamber, were advancing several controversial measures dealing with education and labor that had little or no Democratic support.
They advanced bills, for example, to expand the number of charter schools , increase the use of vouchers that use tax money to pay for private schools, permit outside entities to take control of failing schools , enact a "card check" law to hold union elections in public, decrease unemployment benefits , eliminate locally imposed minimum wages , and prohibit unions from automatically deducting dues from teachers' paychecks .
"For us, it's been an accumulation of things," he says. While Wisconsin lawmakers are focused on one bill, Indiana Democrats are fighting many simultaneously. GiaQuinta also says the Wisconsin walk-out was not the reason for the Indiana defection. "This isn't a fad," he says. Indiana House Democrats, he notes, stopped a mid-decade effort by Republicans to redraw legislative districts with a similar ploy in the 1990s.
"What Wisconsin is doing certainly is unique, but it's not new," GiaQuinta says. "What I mean by unique is that it just doesn't happen all the time. We don't do this all the time either. But frankly, I haven't seen an agenda of bills like this coming from the right-leaning Republicans in such a long time. I think that's what got our attention."
Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma denounced the Indiana Democrats' tactics. "They're running from their responsibility (to their office)," he told the National Review . "A democratic process requires people to be present, to debate openly, to cast their vote in accordance with their conscience. We've given them every opportunity in the most bipartisan session in our state's history to do just that."
But GiaQuinta is unfazed. "There's a reason rules are written into the rule book. It's to give the minority the chance to be heard. That's frankly what we're doing," he says. "We're saying, 'Hey, we're still here and we want you to know we don't agree with these things.' "