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“Friend Report”

March 1, 2011

03/02/11 This article should be easy to write, given the happenings of the week past.  It should be a simple task to describe and berate the House Democrats for their departure to Urbana, Illinois. Criticism of disrupting the legislative process, the calendar, the schedule, and blaming them for failing to pass a budget that takes care of state government and our citizens, would be an easy target. I seriously considered doing a very critical article that indicted the Democrats for all their indiscretions.

I even talked it over with our three-legged golden retriever named Buddy. He has recovered nicely from his accident and surgery. Buddy may even be more cerebral since he has been less active this winter. It is pretty obvious he is thinking but it’s hard to tell about what. His advice to me (I think) is to attempt to understand why the Democrats are boycotting the session and analyze the consequences. I will try to communicate them to you.

By shutting down the process, the Democrats have accomplished one of their major goals – Right to Work legislation is done for this year.  It died on the calendar Tuesday, Feb. 22. The Democrats also placed in jeopardy all bills on second and third reading, not the least of which is the state budget.

What does it matter if no budget is enacted by the General Assembly? Well, it matters a lot. With no budget, the state has no authority to spend money. Without appropriation, the state is not allowed to pay employees, pay bills or pay schools.  The administration will be forced to do unpleasant things: close state parks, lay off state employees and close agencies and departments. In short, no budget means no government services for the public. For the Democrats to receive all the blame for a government shutdown would be not to their liking.  Whatever purported support the Democrats may have for opposing perceived anti-union bills, it will deteriorate very rapidly if the state government grinds to a halt.

Do the other bills that die on the calendar matter as much as the budget?  I would say probably not due to the urgency and constitutional obligation of passing a balanced budget, but there are two bills that affect pension recipients. Retired teachers and other public retirees are now being denied additional benefits. The Democrats really don’t want to be blamed for killing that legislation, but they weren’t here to vote on that issue. Other bills that die affect labor and employment issues.

The demise of these bills may please the Democrats and some portion of the public, but at what cost?  Sacrificing necessary legislation by killing bills that the Democrats don’t want presents them with a very difficult situation. It is a decision that determines how effective their outcome can be.

I will make this observation: it’s much easier to initiate a legislative boycott than it is to bring it to a successful conclusion.

A walkout can be agreed upon by a caucus and its leadership, but the conclusion is more difficult to negotiate for a positive outcome. Why?  First of all, the minority party (the House Democrats) does not have the votes to defeat the bills of the majority (House Republicans). Second, the public becomes tired of the exceeding cost to the taxpayers for these theatrics. The public will demand that all elected officials return to the Statehouse and vote on the issues before them. The public will grow weary of all the procedural antics and demand some results. If the public is so dissatisfied with their representatives over the situation, they will change them in the next election.

We find ourselves in a very serious situation, a stare-down. Who will blink first? The consequences—intended and unintended— are immense. Whatever the decisions the Democrat Leadership present to the process are, they are a major gamble for the citizens of our state. Their judgment must be accurate and positive for all of Indiana.

My message to the Democrats is this: be careful what you wish for. All actions have consequences and the results of this boycott may be very negative for a lot of people. Don’t expect applause from a majority of citizens for your actions.

I have served in the minority caucus for 14 of my 18 years as a state legislator. My understanding of the minority position is all too familiar. The minority is the loyal opposition. It is a philosophical position that allows representatives to pursue ideological theories. What it does not do is assume the number of votes to pass a bill. It’s a lesson learned quickly. Understanding the minority position can be difficult. It involves humility and some fighting spirit. In other words, you may lose, but you don’t have to like it.

The Democrats don’t have to like their position in the minority, but they do need to accept their situation. It’s their job as an elected official to vote on bills. The people chose us to do so.

Please continue to comment. It’s your government.

More later,

Bill Friend