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Democrats try to explain boycott in Web meetings, calls

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As pressure mounts for Indiana Democrats to end their Statehouse boycott and get back to work, some members of the exiled caucus are holding town hall meetings to explain to their constituents why they are holed up in an Illinois hotel. The longer the Statehouse standoff drags on, it seems, the more work Democrats are doing to explain their side of the ongoing impasse.

Republicans who control the House say they're also getting more pressure from their constituents to do something to bring back minority Democrats, who left the state Feb. 22 to protest what they call a "radical" GOP agenda and deny the House the quorum it needs to conduct business.

Republicans say they refuse to be bullied into killing bills outright and have vowed not to hash out a back room compromise. Democrats will be fined starting Monday if they do not return when GOP leaders again try to convene the House, but Democrats said it's doubtful they'll be back.

As the standoff drags on, many voters want a resolution soon.

"The longer it goes on, the more heat there is, not just for Democrats to come back, but for the Republicans to negotiate," said Senate Minority Leader Vi Simpson, D-Bloomington. "The public temperament for these kinds of things ... there is a finite end to it."

Both Republicans and Democrats feel they are in the right, of course. And when they hear from their individual constituents back home, they are often validated because they're hearing from some of the same people who elected them in the first place — people who share their views on politics.

Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma said residents he talks to are growing more annoyed at Democrats.

"We are getting inundated by members of the public who want us to deal very harshly with and take immediate action against the Democrats," Bosma said. "My e-mail box is completely packed. We're getting calls constantly. Taxpayers are frustrated."

Democrats, meanwhile, say more people are backing them as they learn about Republican proposals.

"We're getting increasing support," said House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend. "People have had time to know what these bills do."

Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, said people in his pro-union district rally behind him when they hear Democrats say they are fighting for the working class.

"Those things resonate in my area," Brown said.

When making their cases to voters, Republicans have an easier message as they explain their side of the story: They simply want Democrats to come back and do their work.

Democrats, on the other hand, started the boycott after Republicans pushed a contentious "right-to-work" bill that would have prohibited union membership from being a condition of employment. That bill is now dead. Democrats are also concerned about other bills they consider an attack on labor unions and education, but they don't have a clear list of demands they want before they return to the Statehouse.

"The Democrats have a very tough message," said Brian Vargus, a political science professor at IUPUI. "They started with right-to-work. Now they're down into much more policy details."

So it makes sense that Democrats are making extra efforts to connect with constituents.

Rep. Kreg Battles, D-Vincennes, held a virtual meeting last weekend with constituents gathering at Vincennes University. He said Democrats are answering e-mails, calling into constituent meetings and talking to reporters to help explain the boycott.

"We are in constant contact," he said.

Thursday, Democratic representatives from Indianapolis held a town hall meeting using the online video-calling Web site Skype. House members sat in their Urbana, Ill., hotel, while constituents gathered at a Baptist church in Indianapolis watched them on a large screen behind the altar.

While not everyone at the church was supportive — one man told the Democrats they should get back to work — most people thanked boycotting Democrats for standing up for working families.

Leatrice Webb Parks of Indianapolis said most people she knows support the Democrats and want them to stay strong in their boycott.

"The longer they hold out, the more serious the Republicans know the Democrats are," she said.

Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan, D-Indianapolis, told those at the church that Democrats appreciate the Facebook messages, e-mails and phone calls.

"It's so important for us to hear from you," she said. "You are our strength."

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  • Private vs. Government Unions
    What makes the UAW, Teachers Union, Steel Workers etc. better than government unions such as AFSCME? There is already an exemption in the Indy contracts that allows a worker to choose whether they join the Union or not. City employees aren't forced to join. That is a personal choice.
  • Elections Have Consequences
    Come next election, the longer they remain in Illinois, the more seats they will lose and provide Republicans with a super majority. Now what will Bauer have gained then? Your gig is up, come home and get to work.
  • Going
    When the Going gets tough, the "tough" gets going.

    Literally.

    To Illinois. :(
  • Keep your eye on the ball
    What exactly do the House Dems mean when they consider some bills to be an "attack" on labor unions, education, and the middle class? Is there a website that explains this position? It appears to me both sides must focus on policies that promote job creation, train our next generation of adults, and effectively use the taxes that we pay to our governments with every paycheck and purchase.
  • Enough
    Enough nonsense. Enough boycotting. Enough whining. Enough fighting. I hope the salary saving for those not showing up at their workplace in Indpls really did beging today. Illinois is not their workplace. Please tell me elected officials do not get unemployment benefits when they are voted out of office (per claim by former Illinois' Cook County Board President). BTW, what is middle class salary? I have worked union & non-union for 40 years and never made more than $35,000 a yr. Does this make me sub-middle class because salary is sub-$40,000/yr? But this boycott issue has nothing to do with income. It is ethics and responsibility.
  • Why are they holed up?
    Because they are irresponsible. I expect Michael Moore, the biggest Socialist in this country to show up soon. Democrats pay heed - your party is now officially the SOCIALIST party. If you want a socialist state then continue to support them, but if you want to continue the republic in a true democratic (small "d") then urge them to get back and do the job they were elected to do. This is pure nonsense. We have had plenty enough of Bauer's bullying tactics.
  • When the going gets tough, the Dems run away?
    So, the message the Democrats are sending is they don't want to be forced to do their job? What kind of message does that send our kids? When the job is too difficult and you are in jeopardy of not getting the result you want, just run away?
  • Get real Tony!
    Let's come back to reality Tony. The Democrats may be doing some work in Illinois, but they are not doing their job. Their job is at the Statehouse.
  • Democrats
    Understand, the Democrats are STILL doing their job in Ill!!! If they come back, they will be forced to vote on a Bill that doesn't work for the people. Or Education! It WILL pass because the Republicans control the house. They are NOT taking money for the hotel, it's coming out of their own pockets.
    • democarts
      they need to get back on job or they can be replace in nov. when we vote

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