A political stalemate in Indiana showed no signs of ending anytime soon as House Democrats met privately Wednesday in an out-of-state hotel and Republicans refused to negotiate away their legislative agenda to lure them back.
While the tactic mimicked one used a week earlier by Senate Democrats in Wisconsin who fled to delay a vote on an anti-union bill, the Indiana Democrats said their protest was not about one GOP-backed proposal but a slate of them. In both states, Democrats don't have the votes to defeat the proposals, but by not showing up they can prevent the required quorum necessary to call the measures for a vote.
"We want to see a little more cooperation on everything," Patrick Bauer, the House Democratic leader, told reporters by phone from a hotel in Urbana, Ill. "I know they don't think it's necessary, but thank God the Constitution said you have a way of fighting tyranny."
Although Bauer declines to list all the sticking points, the vote that sparked Tuesday's walkout involved Indiana's "right-to-work" legislation that prohibits union membership from being a condition of employment. The walkout effectively killed that measure, but the Democrats were pushing to end other aspects of Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels' agenda, including aggressive education changes such as vouchers, the expansion of charter schools and restrictions on teacher collective bargaining.
House Speaker Brian Bosma said he talked to Bauer by phone Wednesday morning to tell him, "he needed to get back here."
"The negotiation takes place on the floor of the House," Bosma said. "This isn't the old back room deals that Rep. Bauer's used to cutting."
Daniels had previously warned the right-to-work bill could become so politically charged that it could kill the chances of other, more important legislation. He wouldn't say "told you so" Wednesday, but he did tell reporters he was surprised and disappointed that Democrats simply didn't claim the right-to-work issue as a political victory and return to work on other matters.
"We will not be bullied or blackmailed out of pursuing the agenda we laid in front of the people of Indiana," Daniels said. "That agenda is going to get voted on if it takes special sessions from now to New Year's."
While the Wisconsin Democrats remain in an undisclosed location somewhere near Chicago, the 30-plus Indiana Democrats were discussing negotiating strategy during a closed-door caucus session at a budget hotel in Urbana, closer to the Indiana border.
"We thought we might spend a day or two in sunny south Urbana," joked Democratic Rep. Win Moses
The three-story hotel is less than two years old, but it sits near Interstate 74 in area with little to offer but gas stations and fast-food restaurants.
After Bosma drew a standing ovation from Republican lawmakers when he said he wouldn't concede to Democrat demands, union members in the House gallery quickly started booing. Bosma later had the gallery cleared and said he may order it closed during House meetings later Wednesday because of the vocal demonstrations.
Union groups planned rally events throughout the day at the Statehouse.
"We're getting our voices heard, which is our objective," Indiana AFL-CIO President Nancy Guyott said. "We want to make sure it's the people's business that's being done rather than the business of the large corporate CEOs."
The voucher bill faces a procedural deadline Thursday, so if Democrats came back by then it could proceed. Bosma said he hoped that cooler heads prevail in the Democratic caucus and that at least enough members for a quorum would return to the Statehouse soon.
Democrats say Republicans are overreaching and are pushing a "radical" agenda that amounts to an attack on education and workers.
Bosma tried to convene the House again Wednesday morning, but most Democrats were again absent. Several hundred union workers who support the Democrats' boycott packed the hallways outside House chambers and crowded the gallery looking down on the House floor. Demonstrating seemed to escalate.
Workers outside the House chanted "Save our schools!" as a rabbi was delivering a prayer before House members. Bosma later apologized to the rabbi for the "disrespect." Workers chanted "Hell no, we won't go!" as lawmakers recited the Pledge of Allegiance.
Daniels said House Democrats were showing "complete contempt for the democratic process" but that he's willing to "let bygones be bygones" if Democrats return quickly and get to work.
"We can just get on with business, and that is what I would appeal to them to do," Daniels said.