A Pandemic of Political Missteps

February 28, 2011

Time sensitive; for immediate release (670 words)

Indiana House Republicans goofed when they added a “right to work” bill to the legislature’s already loaded policy agenda. The bill not only energized organized labor, but it inspired Democrats to flee to a hotel in Urbana, Ill., denying lawmakers a quorum for conducting business.

In a reasonable gesture to resolve the dispute, Republicans pulled the bill off the calendar and Speaker Brian Bosma promised it wouldn’t reappear this session.  That should have put an end to the silliness.

Instead Democrats upped their demands in an effort to kill a dozen more bills including key elements of Gov. Mitch Daniels’s education reform agenda.

While Republicans can be accused of a strategic error – it made no sense to take on the unions while so many families are still suffering from a recession – Democrats can now be accused of sabotage. Political terrorism by either party does not sit well with voters. By refusing to debate the issues on the floor of the Statehouse, Democrats have abdicated the job voters entrusted to them.

The democratic process works because it is based on the following principles: Legislators have a right and obligation to propose bills they believe are in the public’s interest. The party in power generally gets to decide which bills go forward and which get stopped. Bills that advance get a public hearing where supporters and opponents can testify. If a controversial bill passes one house, opponents get a second chance to stop it in the second house. If the General Assembly passes a bad bill, the governor can veto it. If the legislature passes a bill that violates rights, it can be declared unconstitutional by the courts.

The Democrats no doubt thought their Illinois campout would generate the same kind of national attention that their partisans are getting in Wisconsin, where protests against Gov. Scott Walker’s labor reform agenda have made network news on a nightly basis.

Ironically, the Indiana Democratic protest has garnered only a brief mention here or there while Daniels’s public sector reforms and budget balancing success were the focus of Page One stories in the /Wall Street Journal/Saturday and /The New York Times/Sunday.

Daniels “cut spending, trimmed the state work force to its smallest in decades and turned a yawning deficit into a surplus with only scattered outbursts of popular anger along the way,” the /Wall Street Journal/noted.

One other ironic twist: One of the reforms that Walker is pushing would end collective bargaining with public employees in an attempt to save taxpayers millions. Daniels essentially did the same thing through executive order with little protest in 2005.

SPEAKING of political missteps, Republican State Treasurer Richard Mourdock has made one by challenging six-term U.S. Sen. Richard G. Lugar for his party’s nomination.

Mourdock has been emboldened by signatures of support from 68 Republican County chairmen who apparently think Lugar’s been in the Senate long enough.

Here’s what Mourdock may not realize. Voters don’t get rid of incumbents just for the heck of it. Even in the decidedly anti-incumbent mid-term elections, in which the U.S. House changed hands, 86 percent of incumbents won re-election.

Lugar has done more than any other sitting senator to make the world a safer place: reducing the number of weapons of mass destruction and promoting democratic governments in Latin America and Africa. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace prize in 2000 for his work on nuclear disarmament. He has the highest possible rating from Project Vote Smart for being straight with voters about his views on issues. Despite Mourdock’s effort to paint him as a faux conservative, interest group rankings suggest otherwise. Lugar sides with the National Right to Life Committee, American Farm Bureau Federation, National Taxpayers Union and Citizens against Government Waste an overwhelming majority of the time.

At age 78, Lugar is still passionate about issues and has much to offer the state and the world. GOP voters aren’t likely to turn on one of the few remaining leaders from the Greatest Generation.

Andrea Neal is adjunct scholar with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. Contact her at aneal@inpolicy.org.


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