[r88] Legislative Future in the Balance (3/10/2011)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Start Date: 3/10/2011 All Day
End Date: 3/10/2011
As the Democrat's legislative strike of 2011 enters its fourth week, Hoosier history is being rewritten. No group of legislators has left the state for such an extended period of time and indicated they will not return until they get their way.  How legislative leaders react to these demands may well set the stage for the democratic process for a century to come.

While the minority's efforts to deny a quorum have been used on a limited basis by both parties over the last thirty years, Republican efforts have focused on issues where the minority was completely denied the opportunity to speak, offer motions or participate in the legislative process in accordance with the rules of the Indiana House.  Democrat leader Pat Bauer, however, has been a master of using this device to the public's detriment. 

As a young member of the Ways & Means Committee years ago, I recall Representative Bauer, as the ranking member of Ways & Means, leading his team to deny a quorum in that committee for weeks until increased spending demands were met.  In 2005, the last time I served as Speaker of the House, Representative Bauer led his caucus on a six day in-state walkout, killing 132 House bills ready for passage by the majority.  We were able to resurrect 40 of these reform proposals, but only after extensive legislative gyrations.

But even Representative Bauer's prior efforts have been eclipsed by the current thirty-nine member twenty-one day Illinois boycott.  For the future of our state's legislative institutions, it cannot be tolerated.

When the Democrats fled to Urbana, Illinois on February 21st, they issued a list of eleven bills Republicans must agree to kill for the session or they would not return. One of these bills, the state budget, failed to contain sufficient spending to meet the Democrat's appetite. Other bills focused on education reform, labor regulations and economic development. 

Since the strike began, Democrat spokesmen have repeatedly claimed that Republicans are "attacking the middle class."  Their propaganda states that we want to dismantle public schools, drive all workers to minimum wages "for life" and completely dismantle public and private collective bargaining.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Our House GOP "Strengthen Indiana Plan", announced on September 15, 2010, was created with Hoosier's top concerns in mind.  Fiscal integrity, job creation and education reform were clearly announced as the top priorities of Republican lawmakers.  We told the public what we intended to do if elected; not some nebulous 'hope and change' or "just trust us" mantra, but specifics on how budgets would be balanced without tax increases, how we intended to create more job opportunities for all Hoosiers, and our hope to give outstanding education options to every Hoosier family regardless of income or zip code. 

Our agenda hit home.  Hoosiers voted overwhelmingly for reform minded GOP House candidates, with nearly a million voters supporting House Republicans.  Democrat candidates for the House garnered just 36% of the vote, but with gerrymandered districts, they managed to still bring 40 members to the General Assembly to work with 60 Republicans.

Despite this overwhelming majority, as the newly selected Speaker of the House, I broke 194 years of state tradition and appointed two committee chairs from the minority party, a first in state history.  I also pledged weekly meetings with Democrat leaders and an end to the practice of "blackballing" measures authored by minority party members.

Despite these measures, as 66 bills were ready for passage by legislators, the Democrat minority decided the only way to thwart the election result was to return to an old friend - shut down the legislative process.  Their actions fly in the face of the oath we each took on November 16th to uphold our states' laws and Constitution, and fulfill the duties of our office to the best of our abilities.

Perhaps Democrats do consider our proposed budget 'radical', since a balanced budget is something that many states have been unable to achieve. Two years ago House Democrats demanded a budget that would have spent all of Indiana's receipts in record time, leaving the state as bankrupt as our neighbors.  Republicans stood firm, and succeeded in overcoming the Democrats' tax and spend mentality with the help of Governor Daniels and our Senate colleagues. 

Rewarding high performing teachers with additional pay, expanding opportunities for low-income families to access education options that are right for their kids, and limiting the content of teacher collective bargaining contracts are likewise not "radical" ideas to improve public education.  In fact, each of these concepts garners popular support among Hoosiers statewide

The current out of state tantrum has now cost taxpayers in excess of $300,000. But that's not all. The funding of the costs of this hiatus through contributions from vested special interests brings influence over public officials to an all new level.  This development should concern every Hoosier taxpayer and each defender of a free democratic process.  Democrats must disclose the source of these funds immediately to restore public confidence.

House Republicans will continue to stand firm.  We will not concede to a list of demands from legislators who have fled their duties.  Instead, we call for our Democrat colleagues to disclose the source of their funding and return to the work they were elected to perform.  We will be ready when they arrive.

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