Mitch Daniels' State of the Union Response Shows GOP Priority: Beating Up on Workers
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Republicans pushed “Right to Work” last year, just as their Tea-Partying colleagues in other states were pushing their own far-right legislation. They only backed down after protests and a 36-day legislative boycott by Democrats forced a compromise under which Daniels was able to sign into law bills expanding school vouchers and narrowing teachers’ bargaining rights. This year, all signs are it’s “Right to Work” or bust. Harris says that whereas in the past “The stakes have been too high” on other issues for Daniels to dig in on “Right to Work,” “now that he’s on his way out the door, he’s willing to take that gamble and try to sell himself nationally with a right-wing crowd.” As Republicans showed in South Carolina, bashing unions has become the other red meat.
Since the beginning of this month, the capitol has seen regular demonstrations by “Right to Work” opponents. As in Wisconsin, Republicans inadvertently galvanized that opposition early on with attempts to limit the number of protesters allowed in the capitol and prevent public testimony on legislation. “The statehouse access issue,” says Guyott, “caused folks to understand that the point of Right to Work is to silence workers, and they showed their hand just how far they’ll go to silence us.”
Given Republicans’ majorities in both houses of the Indiana legislature, stopping the bill would require either convincing several Republicans to oppose it, or bringing the legislature to a halt. Democratic legislators hae repeatedly gone on “extended caucuses” that temporarily froze State House proceedings by denying a quorum. But Indiana Democratic Party Chair Dan Parker frames such legislative boycotting as a tactic for overcoming Republicans’ “unprecedented restrictions” on minority input, not as a strategy for killing the bill. After Republicans rejected all of Democrats’ proposed amendments to the bill, including a high-profile one that would have put a “Right to Work” referendum on the November ballot, Democrats began their latest “extended caucus” Monday night. They’re expected to allow a quorum today, paving the way for a final House vote this afternoon. “We don’t hae a final vote count,” says Harris, “but we have suspicions of where it will be. We expect it to pass.”
Asked whether he’d rather the Democrats continue denying a quorum, Harris responds, “That’s their decision to make…I’ll leave the parliamentary procedure and whether they go in or out to the legislators. Our role is to educate the members and the general public as best we can.” If the bill passes today, it heads to the Senate, which has a larger Republican majority and lacks a quorum requirement, making a boycott there impossible. On Friday the Senate passed a different version of “Right to Work” by a 28-22 vote, with nine Republicans joining all 13 Democrats in opposition. To deny House Democrats another boycott opportunity, the Senate may hold new votes to pass the House’s version and send it directly to Daniels’ desk. The AFL-CIO says its main focus is getting workers talking to legislators to turn them against the bill.
“Eerything’s very much up in the air here,” says Harris. Though the AFL-CIO hasn’t yet called for them, other activists have already begun planning actions to coincide with the Super Bowl in a week and a half. Those are likely to take place whether or not Daniels has signed a bill by then. “I think the mood is growing,” says Harris.