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STATEHOUSE DISPATCH: Daniels shows Peyton's poise, focusing on second half

March 12, 2007

Bills that remain alive in the current session of the Indiana General Assembly now have moved from their chamber of origin across the Rotunda, and lawmakers are ready for the task of considering House bills in the Senate, and vice versa.

The task begins on a relatively quiet note, and with a collective downcast mood of sorts.

The dispirited atmosphere comes from the early March death of Sen. Anita O. Bowser, D-Michigan City, at age 86. She was the eldest member of the Legislature, and one her colleagues always listened to, even if they didn't agree with her position.

Bowser, who began her legislative career in the House of Representatives, was viewed in much the same manner as the American Civil Liberties Union. Some people think the ACLU is the protector of all things cherished, and some believe it is too literal in its perspective and shields too much evil. But virtually all, deep down, respect the organization for standing up for individuals, entities and precepts that might not be popular in the given context, but must be protected to preserve larger principles.

That was Bowser. A constitutional law scholar of sorts, and a human rights advocate, her colleagues paid attention when she lectured them about issues such as the death penalty and same-sex marriage, and woe unto the non-attorney who engaged her in a debate over some element of the U.S. Constitution.

The Senate did not convene on March 8, allowing its members to attend services for Bowser in LaPorte County.

But there was more than Bowser's passing that contributed to the mid-session melancholy.

Despite the predictions (and we suspect a plethora of over-under pools picking the precise date) of a legislative meltdown with Democrats in control of the House under a Republican governor-and, more specifically, the historical relationship between Gov. Mitch Daniels and House Speaker Pat Bauer, South Bend-business was conducted professionally during the first "half" of the session.

Both individuals appeared to go out of their way to avoid the appearance of overt partisanship, and, while few expect the relationship to remain quite so affectionate as the stakes rise at the end of the session, the experience to date is encouraging.

While Bauer deserves some of the credit for not going out of his way to "car bomb" the governor, when you look closely at what he has done in the first two months of the session, his pattern of conduct is not much different than it has been in the past. (We should add that no overarching issue has cropped up between House Democrats and Republicans this year that in the past might have compelled either party to derail the process.)

But the governor is the key to why this session has not proceeded according to the form feared by many observers at the outset.

The reason appears to be that Daniels has adopted a legislative temperament of sorts. While that's a term of art requiring no explanation for legislative insiders, it might be a bit more difficult to frame for casual observers.

The bottom line is that most legislators understand that much of what transpires publicly in a legislative session-particularly the first half-consists of considerable political posturing, and even when seemingly major items falter, they can almost inevitably be resurrected later, particularly in a budget session such as we're in now, where many things can be quietly inserted into the budget bill in the final day.

Where the governor might have overreacted to the amendment or demise of some of his favored proposals in the past, he has taken a step back this year and seems to be counting to 10 before disparaging people or the process. Lawmakers appreciate that space.

Daniels now resembles nothing so much as a calm Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, who understands that, even though his team might be trailing at halftime, that is no reason for ranting to the sideline reporter on his way to the locker room, or for raising his voice to his team once in there.

Where the governor might have previously followed the lead of former Indiana Pacer Ron Artest in issuing an untimely outburst that could poison his relationship with his political teammates, now he seems to have adopted the more statesmanlike persona of Peyton Manning.

If Daniels feels injured by a legislative action at this point in the process, he's more apt to simply "rub some dirt on it," and jump back into the field of play and continue to "think touchdown."

This has not gone unnoticed by legislators. This attitude, and thoughts of Anita Bowser in the consciences of her former colleagues, might help keep this session on track.



Feigenbaum publishes Indiana Legislative Insight. His column appears weekly while the Indiana General Assembly is in session. He can be reached by e-mail at edf@ingrouponline.com.
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