Government and Economic Development

CHRIS KATTERJOHN Commentary: House Democrats blew it

March 7, 2005

Democrats in the Indiana House of Representatives took their toys and went home last week, skipping work for 22 hours over the final two-day period to move legislation over to the Senate.

Their partisan, obstructionist tactics brought progress to a screeching halt as the state tries to move forward with a new agenda that Indiana voters overwhelmingly supported in principle back at the polls in November.

I'm not sure, but I think if I decided to boycott my job for two days "on principle," I'd probably lose it. My job, that is.

Yes, as the deadline loomed last Monday and Tuesday Democrats walked out, putting in jeopardy a number of critical proposals that Gov. Mitch Daniels and Republicans have offered to improve government and Indiana's economic prospects for the future.

The 132 House bills that effectively died included bills proposing daylight-saving time and a funding plan for a new Colts stadium-both critical for economic development-and a bill creating an inspector general to investigate government corruption.

Why in the world would Democrats be afraid of that one?

A wise man once said, "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it's faced." It would seem that the state's Demos missed that lesson.

In the days following last week's walkout, pundits were saying the Colts financing could be accommodated by a Senate bill, but daylight-saving time might be dead for good. That's a loss that Indiana can ill afford.

For their part, many of the Democrats involved in the boycott downplayed the impact of their actions, saying that many of the bills could still be resurrected in some form or another in the Senate.

Translation: The whole thing was an exercise in posturing. I guess that's politics, but, boy, is it disappointing. I would suggest that there were other, more useful and effective tactics that could've been employed, like talking and negotiating, for example.

It would seem that the Democrats in the House, which is more rancorous than the Senate to begin with, have only made that atmosphere even more contentious by their actions. It would also seem that they've lost a lot of credibility.

They could learn a thing or two from their counterparts in the other chamber of the General Assembly, the Senate, where Republicans hold an even bigger majority.

In February, Senate Democrats threatened the same action as their brethren in the House over SB 500, a bill that Democrats said weakened voters' rights and gave total control of election disputes to the political party that controls the Secretary of State's office, i.e., the Republican Party.

They didn't like it, but in that situation Senate Democrats ultimately managed to use diplomacy to kill the bill and avoid a meltdown similar to the one that occurred last week in the House. They got comparable results with other bills, including SB 19 and SB 20.

Legislators should venture out of the Statehouse to take a look around every once in a while. While Democrats-and Republicans last year-said they were standing on principle when they boycotted the process, the average citizen thought they were just acting like children and shirking their responsibilities.

At least, that was the water-cooler talk in our office last week, from both sides of the political fence. "How do they get away with that kind of stuff," one IBJ staffer said. Good question. Is that any way to earn your paycheck? Another good question.

As employees, we are expected to show up for our jobs. As family members, we are supposed to be on hand and roll up our sleeves during a family crisis. As legislators, Democrats and Republicans alike are expected to work through their disagreements and get the job done.

That's why we elected them to office, and we should demand nothing less of our public servants.



Katterjohn is publisher of IBJ. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to ckatterjohn@ibj.com.
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