Labor

Indiana Democrats Stand for Something, Not Sure What It Is Yet

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Indianapolis experienced its heaviest influx of union protesters yesterday since House Democrats took off for Urbana two weeks ago. Union leaders tasked demonstrators with tying up local business and hoped for the largest protest crowd in state history, where they appear to have fallen short. The right-to-work law that started this brouhaha has been shelved, so what are the self-exiled legislators standing for, exactly? Matthew Tully of The Indianapolis Star reports: 

They definitely need the business.

Some of the Democrats' arguments make little sense. Indianapolis Rep. Gregory Porter, for example, was among a handful of lawmakers who told me they were protesting a bill that would allow the state to take over the state's worst-performing public schools. But the bill in question would only add to the landmark 1999 law that allowed such takeovers. Porter criticized the idea and said the issue would keep him in Urbana. But after being questioned, he acknowledged he co-authored the original bill that gave the state the authority to assume control of failing schools…

No endgame is in sight. Over and over, I asked Democrats what it would take to lure them back to the Statehouse. Some insisted Republicans would have to scrap huge chunks of their legislative agenda, which is unlikely. Others offered more ambiguous answers, vaguely demanding "compromise."

The remaining agenda to which Democrats are opposed includes reducing teachers' collective bargaining rights to wages and benefits, a voucher bill, and rolling back preferences for unions in public works hiring. The alternative program they offer appears to be "fighting" (rather than fleeing).

House Democrats spent Wednesday evening's "Tele TownHall" conference call accentuating the positive from their rooms at the Urbana Comfort Suites. Matt Pierce (Bloomington) pointed out "we're actually saving taxpayers money the longer we're here," since the exiles aren't receiving their per diems. Scott Pelath (Michigan City) called it a "great moment in Indiana history that 39 people have stood up" and taken time from from families and jobs to delay legislative action.  Vern Smith (Gary) expressed concern with education reform, wondering if it is "really for the rich, because at present (the bill) allows vouchers to be issued to families that are making as much as $81,000." Minority Leader Pat Bauer (South Bend) called the Democrats' flight a "timeout," for the purpose of educating everyone, including themselves, on the GOP agenda.

Meanwhile, Indiana's House Republicans held a sing-in: 

More from Reason on unions here.