Published January 20, 2012
There is no end in sight for the standoff in the Indiana legislature.
The slow-moving dispute revolves around so-called right-to-work legislation, which would bar labor unions from mandating membership and dues. If passed, Indiana would be the first state in a decade to enact such a law.
However, Democrats have walked out in protest, holding up the entire debate.
If Democrats return, the passage of Gov. Mitch Daniel's right-to-work legislation is guaranteed. If they don't, nothing can be passed through the Indiana House because there are not enough lawmakers present for a quorum. Potentially dragging out the dispute, Marion County Judge David Deyer has blocked the $1,000-a-day fine slapped on House Democrats by their Republican counterparts for this walkout.
Demonstrators in the Capitol hallways are tame and few in number by Wisconsin standards, but they certainly make their presence known. The chants of "We work, we vote," and "The people have spoken," can be heard behind closed doors in just about any office in the Statehouse.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, a Republican, calls it mob-ocracy. "We have a very loud minority here that's shouting, intimidating and just trying to stop elected officials from doing what they were elected to do. Which is to show up, debate, vote and live by the result," he said.
The right-to-work legislation would reach into the private sector. It is roughly the same legislation that Daniels backed off last session, but he made it his centerpiece this time around.
The Democrats' original compromise was an attempt to take right-to-work idea to a statewide referendum. However, the independent Legislative Services Agency determined the referendum option was unconstitutional.
So Hoosier Democrats left the House chamber and say they will only return if the referendum is an option -- "if they (Republicans) agree that it's constitutional and the vote is up or down for whether the people can decide the issue or not," said Democratic leader Patrick Bauer.
The protests are largely driven by the AFL-CIO. The state president of that union pushes back against the argument that lawmakers are elected to show up at the Capitol, debate and vote.
"They were elected to represent their constituents to help Indiana enact or block laws as appropriate for the people of Indiana," Nancy Guyott said.
The block seems only temporary. As Republicans hold the majority, the bill will pass as soon as the Democrats return unless something unexpected happens.
It appears the strategy may be to delay passage until the big game, the Superbowl. Protesters have taken to chanting, "Occupy the Superbowl." If they can disrupt or make their presence known at the big game, they could take their concerns about right-to-work legislation to the biggest audience possible.
Bosma bristles at that possibility. "To somehow leverage what should be a great event in our city and our state to push their special interest forward, it would be a huge mistake on their part," he said.