Republicans are trying to turn up the political heat on Indiana House Democrats who left the state to stall labor- and education-related bills they find objectionable, launching radio ads ridiculing the move as the walkout entered its second week and the crowds of protesters thinned.
House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer said Monday he'd meet "anytime, anywhere," if Republicans were willing to compromise, but neither side seemed inclined to give ground.
Bauer said Democrats had no plans to return from an Urbana, Ill., hotel anytime soon without changes to about five bills, including a contentious voucher proposal that would use taxpayer money to help parents send their children to private school.
The South Bend Democrat and Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma spoke by phone Monday, but Bauer told reporters that Bosma made it clear that he was just listening — not negotiating. Bauer said he's willing to compromise on the bills if Republicans "take away some of the pain."
"I'm willing to negotiate anytime, anywhere," he said.
Bosma said Bauer is welcome to come to his office Tuesday to talk and that he'd buy his counterpart a cup of coffee and a sandwich. But Bosma said he wouldn't take any of the proposals off the House agenda.
"I don't want to cut a deal in a hot tub in Urbana," Bosma said. "If he wants to get back here and chat, we'll chat about whatever's necessary, but we will deal with this calendar."
Asked whether he would agree to make changes to some bills, Bosma said the House would take up amendments and that the Republican-backed bills aren't perfect. But he said he won't take issues off the table simply because the minority demands it.
Bosma urged Democrats to return and end the floor boycott that has denied the House the two-thirds of members present it needs to conduct business.
"If somebody's in the building, of course we're going to talk to them," he said. "We're dying for conversations, but it's tough to have them when people aren't here."
One of the Republican radio ads paid for by GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels' Aiming Higher political committee features a song saying "Won't you come home Pat Bauer?"
The ad's narrator says the legislators have a right to their say, "but no right to tear up the democratic process just because the election didn't go your way." Another ad urges listeners to call a Statehouse toll-free number and tell the Democrats "to stand up to their boss from South Bend."
State Republican Party spokesman Pete Seat said the radio ads began running statewide Monday, but wouldn't say how much was being spent on them.
The Indiana Democratic Party has been soliciting donations to help pay the bills for legislators staying in Illinois, with the Democratic lawmakers saying they won't seek their daily $155 expense stipend while they are away.
A few hundred union members cheered during a midday rally when actor and liberal activist Danny Glover urged them to stand in solidarity against what he called an organized campaign across the country against middle-class workers.
"They are under a vicious attack and we've got to put an end to it," said Glover, who starred in the "Lethal Weapon" action movies.
Senate Minority Leader Vi Simpson, D-Bloomington, told the union members that whenever they heard one of the Republican radio ads to respond by telling their friends and neighbors that the boycotting Democrats were defending public schools and the middle class against Republican attacks.
"This is a class war that they have waged and we must stop them," Simpson said.
Bosma said he laughed when he first heard the song in the Republican ad, and Bauer suggested that he could pen his own song about Republicans.
"If I get any free time, I just might do that," Bauer said.