Indiana House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer said Thursday he's not sure whether boycotting Democrats will return to the Statehouse on Monday because so far "nothing's changed" as House Republicans refuse to negotiate or drop contentious labor and education bills from their agenda.
Most Democrats have fled to Illinois in an effort to derail legislation they consider an assault on the working class. Republicans who control the House adjourned until Monday after Democrats said they won't be back this week.
Bauer, D-South Bend, said Democrats won't return from Urbana, Ill., where they fled Tuesday, until House Republicans are willing to negotiate their agenda. He said he would like to meet with Wisconsin Senate Democrats who also have fled to Illinois to block GOP-backed legislation that would strip public employees of most of their collective bargaining rights. Bauer said such a meeting would be like a pair of crime victims meeting to talk about their attacker.
The boycott by Indiana House Democrats complicates the session's top priority -- the budget. Republicans have said they won't be bullied into dropping their agenda, and plan to extend legislative deadlines to save important bills once Democrats return.
Indiana Republicans are urging individual House Democrats to break ranks with their caucus and return to the Statehouse to work. But Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said Democrats remain resolute and have no immediate plan to come back. Pelath was asked Thursday what it would take to get Democrats back to the Statehouse on Monday.
"That's a caucus decision," he said. `It's going to be a group determination."
Pelath came back from Illinois to trade positions with another Democrat who had been at the Statehouse for procedural reasons. He said the caucus would determine as a group whether members would stay in Illinois over the weekend or whether they would go home to their districts.
Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said he plans to extend legislative deadlines for bills that would otherwise die Thursday. Those bills include a contentious private school voucher bill and the new state budget.
Republicans hold 60 seats in the 100-member House, where 67 members must be present for the quorum required to conduct business. One Democrat, Rep. Steve Stemler, D-Jeffersonville, decided not to participate in the boycott -- leaving Republicans half a dozen members short. Republicans were privately speculating on which Democrats might be willing to return.
GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels said Wednesday that if House Democratic leaders don't "have a conscience about the unconscionable things they've done, maybe individual members do."
Senate Minority Leader Vi Simpson, D-Bloomington, predicted it will be difficult to keep the boycott going as political pressure mounts. Members will read their local newspaper editorials and hear from constituents angry at their decision to leave.
"There will be people in his own caucus who will start to say, `I've got to go back,'" she said of Bauer's group. "What you have to do as a leader is remind everybody why you're there. The House Democrats who are in Illinois are there because they believe in their hearts this was the right thing to do. They'll know when it's time to come back."
While neither side of the political stalemate appeared willing to budge Thursday, many hoped the frustration and anger among leaders would subside as time went on. Daniels said he would call lawmakers in session "from now to New Year's" if needed to deal with the issues Democrats want to derail, but said he hoped that wouldn't be necessary.
"We can just get on with business, and that is what I would appeal to them to do," Daniels said. "I hope as a whole group, if not then, perhaps individuals in the caucus who have gone along -- because that is what good caucus members do -- may decide their conscience tells them they should do their duty instead."
Information for this report was contributed by David Mercer of The Associated Press reporting from Urbana, Ill.