Wednesday, January 25, 2012

RTW - Never should have happened!

By Russ Stilwell
Never Should Have Happened!
The House Republican Leadership team has made the 2012 session of the General Assembly a historical lesson on how to pass a divisive and contentious bill by using the most excruciating procedural sequences ever envisioned.  This grueling process lacked clarity, rules, direction or any semblance of a seamless process.  It never should have happened this way.
I’m sure they’re not particularly fond of the hundreds of protesting Hoosiers every day.  No doubt they’re not very pleased with the minority using every rule in the book, and those that are not included, in their mission to stop the RTW bill.
No doubt, the House R’s had the votes to pass RTW from the very first day of the session.  There was no doubt that House D’s would oppose this every step of the way, including the occasional withholding of their presence. 
Even a casual observer of the legislative process could have outlined a far more efficient and practical legislative pathway to pass RTW than the non medicated tooth-extraction course of action the House R’s invented.
Given the ill-advised pathway to pass RTW, what did they expect?  They knew that labor would make this a most painful process.  They had to know that the House D’s would be fightin’ and screamin’ every painful step of the way. 
And what did they do?  They made it easy for the opposition to cry “foul play” and for House D’s to march off to caucus.  Let’s reexamine.
Number 1:  Whoever concocted the that ill-advised statehouse policy of limiting the number of folks allowed in the statehouse under the guise of public safety & fire codes must have been not only politically challenged, but totally lacking in the expected and immediate public outcry. 
The opposition to this ill-fated policy was strong and vigorously opposed by every major news outlet in the state.  Only after a public outcry, was the admission to the capitol policy rescinded!  The legislative Republican leadership was silent on the issue until public outcry corrected their senses!  And this was just what the House D’s and the labor community needed to fire up the troops.  Never should have happened!    
Number 2:  In my 14 years in the legislature, I had never seen a joint House/Senate committee hearing on one issue, let alone one that would be the most contentious in a half-century.  If the House R’s had just scheduled their Labor Committee (actually, the name changes every time the House majority changes; Labor committee for D’s and Employment committee for R’s) to have a hearing in the House Chamber, endured the hours of testimony and kept the process open,        then the D’s would have only had one choice.  To participate, offer amendments and vote. 
But no, in a rush to pass the contentious bill they just had to do the unthinkable.   Infuriate the D’s, give credibility to labor who shouted “unfair” and  belabor the painful process they set in motion when they attempted to deny entrance to the statehouse.
Number 3:  What about the House Labor Committee hearing?  When the Speaker of the House suggests it wasn’t “democracy’s finest moment”, you can bet the labor and the House D’s would have a swift reaction!  What were they thinking?  All they had to do was do what they should have done in the first place.  Just endure the pain of another lengthy hearing, let everyone have their say and pass the bill with the predicted party line positions.
In their rush to send this fateful bill to the floor, they provided more gunpowder to            a flotilla of opposition that was already getting ready to explode.  What were they thinking?
Number 4:   Once the House D’s returned for a painful afternoon of amendments to the RTW bill, only a fraction of the amendments had been offered in the first four hours.  You think they thought this wasn’t going to be an all-day-ass-kickin’ exercise of amendments, roll call votes, statesmanship and showmanship?  After that long six second period of silence when Speaker Bosma called for “any more amendments”, he gaveled the dreadful RTW initiative to engrossment. 
What?  After waiting for an eternity for the D’s to come to the floor and only a couple hours short of victory, why would he not allow additional amendments when challenged at about the precise time he gaveled the bill closed?  He certainly had the right to engross, but political common sense dictated a far more exhaustive call for amendments, given the rancor of this particular legislative exercise.  The House D reaction?  A political novice could have predicted that outcome.. 

As I write this column on Wednesday morning, I make the painful assumption that the House will convene, muster a quorum, pass RTW and claim victory.  The war may be over, but the battle will surely continue when the Senate again takes up this fateful bill.  Let’s hope they don’t make the same mistakes the House did.
I would suggest they have a full and open public committee hearing.  I would hope that they would endure the opposition with their myriad of amendments.  And I would hope that they process this House Bill just like they always do – during the second half of the session, just like they have for decades.
However, after reviewing the previous actions in their zealous attempt to pass RTW in a record-breaking pace, nothing will surprise me. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

What were they thinking?

What were they thinking?

By Russ Stilwell

After reviewing all of the attention being focused on Right to Work in our Hoosier State by the proponents and opponents I realized the obvious.  Governor Daniels and our Republican legislative leaders want the same things that I do.

How can that be, one might suggest.  After all, Russ Stilwell is a passionate labor advocate, former member of the House Democrat caucus and an outspoken opponent of most of the anti-labor agenda items the Republican leadership is delivering to our state.

Yep, it’s true.  They want good paying jobs that support a family.  They tout jobs with benefits like health care and a vacation every now and then.  And a job that just might provide a little retirement nest egg. 

And guess what?  That’s exactly what most every union job provides!  Just does not make any sense that this is the same gang that sets out to destroy labor unions and our middle class.

The Republican controlled legislature and their leadership team cannot call our Hoosier state a great place to live, when they place the blame for our economic peril and high unemployment on our public servants who educate our kids, pick up our trash and clean their offices.

When they seek to eliminate unions, end collective bargaining and initiate right to work, they are seeking to undermine the middle class as we know it. 

They are destroying the only segment of our society that demands that Hoosier workers are paid a fair wage, have a safe place to work and share in the fruits of their labor.  Many of our prominent presidents and national leaders seem to agree:

Every advance in this half-century--Social Security, civil rights, Medicare, aid to education, one after another--came with the support and leadership of American Labor.—Jimmy Carter
Only a handful of reactionaries harbor the ugly thought of breaking unions and depriving working men and women of the right to join the union of their choice. I have no use for those -- regardless of their political party -- who hold some vain and foolish dream of spinning the clock back to days when organized labor was huddled, almost as a hapless mass. Only a fool would try to deprive working men and women of the right to join the union of their choice.—Dwight D. Eisenhower
Our labor unions are not narrow, self-seeking groups. They have raised wages, shortened hours, and provided supplemental benefits. Through collective bargaining and grievance procedures, they have brought justice and democracy to the shop floor.—John F. Kennedy

If I went to work in a factory, the first thing I'd do would be to join a Union.—Franklin D. Roosevelt

 There are no rights and no work in Right to Work”----Reverend Martin Luther King.
I recognize that only about 12 percent of Hoosier workers are in unions.  But that 12 percent sets the standards across the board in salaries, benefits and working conditions. If you are making a decent salary in a non-union company, you owe that to a union.

And now, our illustrious legislative leadership has proclaimed that the implementation of right to work will produce more jobs, bring in more companies and treat workers with dignity and respect.  Give me a break.  Don’t think most Hoosiers are ready to start drinking that “kool-aid.”

I’m sure that these same leaders must have supported the ill-fated Herman Cain presidential campaign.  They must have loved his 9-9-9 plan.  After all, it sounds just like the recently implements Hoosier 25-25-25 plan:

Cut unemployment insurance (UI) benefits for workers by 25%.
Cut corporate and business UI taxes by 25%.
Cut corporate income tax 25%.

There are many Hoosiers who believe that unions just might be the last line of defense for workers and keeping the middle class.  These same folks also don’t buy into the theory that the implementation of RTW is because of some economic advantage. 

They see it as I do.  It’s a political assault to put labor unions out of business in our state.  It’s a final stake in the heart of those who, for the most part, support the ‘other political party.’

We constantly hear that Indiana ranks 5th in the nation for a great business environment.  Yet these same folks blame unions for not having enough jobs.  Their solution?  Destroy unions, pass RTW and pass another tax break for folks who just don’t need ‘em.

RTW is a simple, but divisive concept.  I would guess that most of the General Assembly members don’t fully understand it. 

RTW is no more that mandating that there cannot be a union security clause in any labor agreement.  It is not about protecting  workers from paying mandatory dues. 

I keep hearing the Chamber of Commerce, that great institution of worker’s rights, defending Hoosier workers against forced unionism.  First time I’ve heard the Chamber defending worker’s rights in a long, long time.  And they got it all wrong.

Workers in union shops do not have to belong to the union.  But they do have to pay a “fair share” for having representation and benefits of a union contract provided by their union. 

Right to work actually means that a worker in a union shop would not have to pay any fees for union representation, but gets all the rights and privileges of the union contract. 

And the union must represent these non-paying workers in all contractual matters, just like they do for their co-workers who pay union dues.  And get this.  They can even sue the union if they believe they don’t get fair representation.  

This isn’t about fairness for Hoosier workers.  This is about “pay-back time.”  It is all about the business community and their Republican allies banding together to weaken unions and help make our state be union free. 

Each time the House Republicans overreached, they paid the price in the next election.  Yep, history does repeat itself.  They did it with prevailing wage in 1995 and lost in 96.  They did it again in 2005 and lost in 06. 

And they are doing it again in 2011 and will pay the price in 2012.  Yes, we do have referendums in Indiana.  They are called elections.

My predictions?  Right to Work legislation will take the 2012 session of the Indiana General Assembly an absolute crawl so broad and consuming that Hoosiers will think it has come to a absolute halt.

There will be more protests, more lobbying and more television and news shows focusing on this one single issue than all other issues combined in years past.  RTW will take the breath out of every other issue before the legislature.

I predict that national pundits will set up shop in Indiana (both from the right and the left) and make our Hoosier state the centerpiece of what’s wrong with America.  And just in time for the Super Bowl week with an international audience!

And I predict that at the end of the day, folks will be asking why didn’t we talk about jobs?  Why didn’t we talk about our schools? 

And as the 2012 session begins and explodes they will ask the age-old question.  “What were they thinking?”

Monday, October 31, 2011

John Gregg - Hoosier Renaissance Man?

Speaker John Gregg
A Hoosier Renaissance Man?

John Gregg just might be the personification of what a broad & diverse segment of Hoosiers see in themselves.  Family first; funny and smart; humble but yet ambitious and a consensus builder while sticking to a core set of principles founded in working class values. 

The ideal of the Renaissance Man originated in Italy.  It is based on the belief that a man’s capacity for personal development is without limits; competence in a broad range of abilities and areas of knowledge should be every man’s goal and is within everyman’s grasp. 

John Gregg could be characterized as a Hoosier whose expertise and knowledge spans a significant number of subject areas and with a quick wit too.  He just might be the Hoosier version of Renaissance Man.   He just “gets it” so much better than any other political face in our state.  He is smart (three university degrees plus law degree), funny and passionate about everyday Hoosiers.  While others talk about family values, John Gregg practices them.

If you underestimate him he will prevail every time. 

When John Gregg was Speaker of the House during the 2007/08 sessions, I was a freshman legislator.  We had a 50-50 divided house.  However, Democrats were the “majority” party due to a “quirk” in the law inserted the year before by the then majority Republicans.  In the event of a tie in the Indiana House, the winner of the gubernatorial race would decide the majority.  They just knew that their candidate would win.  He didn’t, Frank O’Bannon did and John Gregg was the Speaker of the House.

John’s leadership during his tenure as Speaker from 1997-2002 could be characterized as some of the best times in our state.  We passed balanced budgets; we had budget surpluses; we brought our state into the 20th century with much needed worker benefit reforms and stretched that 50-50 majority to a solid 53-47 bloc. 

During his tenure Speaker Gregg could sometimes get the minority party spittin’ mad.  Just like a Sunday morning preacher, Speaker Gregg would explode and pound the podium and chastise the opposition party when their antics needed addressed.  And then when the R’s were just about to explode and walk, Gregg would crack one of his famous one-line jokes and have the entire Assembly in stitches.  His humor and quick wit saved many a day for the session.

During the final days of my freshman year I did the unthinkable.  I informed Speaker Gregg and then Ways and Means Chairman Patrick Bauer that I was not going to vote for the budget.  Eleven were prepared to join me.  Trust me when I say these two leaders were not pleased.

What was the issue?  Indiana lagged at the absolute bottom of the pile for all 50 states in Unemployment Insurance and Workers Compensation for our workers.  Until that was addressed, the budget vote was at a standstill.

For three straight days, Gregg, Bauer, myself and a couple of prominent labor folks huddled up to try to get some sort of solution before the session ended.  On the last night an elaborate procedural process was cleverly implemented.  It was Sine Die and late in the evening.  The only items before the session ended was the Conseco Stadium funding formula (this had broad support) and another similar funding mechanism for Indianapolis, both of which had strong republican support.  Before these bills were handed down for the final vote, Speaker Gregg used the procedural process to introduce the workers unemployment and compensation bills.  The House R’s were infuriated and immediately walked off the floor, never to return. 

As an elated Gregg took his then considerable frame and smacked the walls in jubilation, he echoed those sweet words that he had finally punched the Republican’s button just like Speaker Phillips had done.  And for a cause that helped Hoosiers throughout our state.

What about those bills?  Governor O’Bannon called us into Special Session with all three bills (including the labor provisions) combined in one bill.  It would be an up or down vote taking the good medicine with the bad medicine, depending on your point of view.  The bill passed with broad bipartisan votes (remember, we only had 50 votes) and shortly after, Frank O’Bannon’s poll numbers soared to well over 60%.  Speaker Gregg had earned respect and admiration from his caucus and his adversaries as well in getting the job done.

When John Gregg saw a complicated issue or problem, he was not shy about calling in others to help find a solution.  This was a leadership style that shaped his Speakership and led to some of the most dominant years for his party during his tenure as speaker.

When Gregg was Speaker, there was a daily session in the Speaker’s office from a broad cross-section of our caucus that reviewed every bill, every amendment and every possible scenario before session started.  His leadership style was inclusion, listening to others.  But make no mistake about it; at the end of the session, he was the decision maker.  But he made those decisions with open input from a broad cross-section of our caucus.

If someone thinks they are going to outwit, outdebate or upstage John Gregg, they had better bring a sack lunch to the event, for it would be an all-day affair.  Gregg is deeply religious, but doesn’t wear it on his sleeve.  John is sometimes brilliant in his uncanny ability to remember names and quote the scriptures when making an impromptu speech or remarks.

When one takes in the entire persona of Speaker John Gregg, you have just what Hoosier voters are looking for.  He is a straight-talkin’, bible quotin’, tell-it-like-it-is Southern Indiana Democrat who is pro-gun and right to life.  Unlike many in the other party, he does not wear his social positions on his sleeve or post them on his forehead.   He talks about jobs and the economy and how we can move our state forward.  John Gregg talks about opportunity and inclusion.

While the opposition for the gubernatorial race often wears their values on their sleeve, John Gregg, the Southern Indiana Hoosier Renaissance man keeps his where voters want him to – in his heart!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Daniels - A Master Politician

Daniels – A Master Politician

By Russ Stilwell

My observations and opinions about Mitch Daniels during his tenure as the Governor of the State of Indiana range from outrage to admiration.  As a partisan democrat who was the House Majority Leader during four of his first six years in office and as a labor-oriented public official I have observed a master politician at work, regardless of the opinion of his issues with  this writer!

One of the first chance encounters I had with Mitch Daniels was a couple days after he was sworn into office in 2005.  We had never actually met.  We had never crisscrossed the same circles and we certainly never lived in the same neighborhood.  But that morning when I was walking up the steps to the capital and the governor was a few steps behind me, I said, “Good morning Governor.”  To my shock he said, “Good morning Russ.  How’s things in Southern Indiana.”

Right then and there, I knew that Governor Mitch had done his homework and that it included infinitesimal details about his political opposition and most likely a whole lot more.  Mitch knew his opposition and his potential allies even though their paths had not crossed.  He was ready.

As a self-anointed ‘political junkie”, I appreciate good political instincts and well-run campaigns.  Daniels, when campaigning for governor in 2004 ran one of the best campaigns ever devised in the Hoosier state.  From the good “Aw shucks” southern drawl when he was in the deep south of our state to the scholarly policy initiatives he advocated across the 92 Indiana counties, Daniels took politics to a level never mastered in the state.  And he did this (and again in his 2008 reelection campaign) without smearing his opponents with slick, nasty, controversial and nasty negative campaign commercials.   Daniels took campaigning to a whole different level.

My favorite (and there were a lot of favorites) commercial was when Daniels comes on air and says, “any garden that is 16 years old needs a little weeding from time to time.”  It was the ultimate dig for taking a shot at 16 years of democrat control in the governor’s office.  And Mitch was great at this brand of messaging. 

The RV?  Who would have thought it was the engine that could.  And the overnights?  Staying with supporters and others in their homes in every nook and cranny in our diverse state gave him a perspective of what real Hoosiers were thinking.  And he put those perspectives to good use.

A couple years ago Governor Daniels was scheduled for a Chamber of Commerce breakfast address in my hometown of Boonville, a 7,000-something community with far more democrats than republicans.  We chatted a minute or two at the chow line and he asked me about my yard and if my mowing it twice a week was keeping me busy.  What?  How could he know something as arcane as that! 

Actually, he had spent the night with a long time friend of a staffer of his that he did not know (so, that’s how they do it?).  Just so happened that my neighbors were the parents of the friend and when Daniels asked if they knew Russ Stilwell, they released the mowing routine.  It’s always the little things that a politician remembers and relays later that makes a lasting impression.  And I bet Governor Mitch had done these immeasurable times as he traveled the state.

Daniels for president?  Actually, I am very pleased that he decided to not get in the race.  My reasons pure and they are politically motivated.  I like and support President Obama and his position on the ballot in 2012 would not help our Hoosier democrat candidates!

He would have been a force to be contended with at the national scene and would have provided the Republican party with a smart (actually very smart) candidate who know s the issues and understands the electorate with a uncanny ability to take complicated problems and have the electorate understand and support his position.  He did this time and again in the Hoosier state and would have assuredly done this with a myriad of far more complicated subjects at the national level.

Even though I firmly believe that Daniels is a superb politician who can outline an aggressive agenda and even get it passed I also believe the “national press corp truth squad” would get the gov in a jam from time to time.  Remember the line, “We created two jobs for every job lost.”  And how about all the little things he didn’t include when taking credit for the fiscal health of the state finances.   It don’t matter!  At the end of the day he sold his message, had substantial voter approval and moved the state in the direction he wanted.  I just happened to disagree in the direction.

Clearly, Mitch Daniels could be a bit feisty from time-to-time.  He called then House Speaker Pat Bauer a “car bomber” and chastised others with clear and direct assaults.  That’s ok, I guess.  After all politics is still a rough and tumble sport in the Hoosier state and one has to occasionally engage, lest they get run over.

Shortly after the 2010 elections when the Republicans had overwhelmed the Democrats, not only in Indiana but throughout the nation, I received a call from a key staff person in the Daniel’s administration.  Now what in the hell were they calling for?  After all, I had just been defeated in my marginal democrat district (after 14 years) by a most worthy opponent who was the beneficiary of lots of campaign bucks from the governor’s Aiming Higher PAC. 

Governor Daniels was scheduled to be the speaker for an announcement of a major coal gasification plant breakthrough that would bring a $2.5 Billion dollar investment to our state and create thousands of jobs for several years building the facility.  Clearly, one of the few issues that me and the Daniel’s administration agreed on and worked on in a collaborative manner was this issue.  I authored three bills in three successive legislative sessions to make this plant an option.  Governor Daniels used the power of his office and political capital to make the gasification plant a reality.

So why did his office call?  The senior staff person said that Governor Daniels wanted to personally invite me to the announcement and that I was the only person that the governor had so instructed to be invited.  And true to form, I was the only elected (make that former elected official) official that Daniels singled out for making this plant a realty.  Later his staff told me that he knew how much work I put into this controversial plant and wanted to let everyone know.  Sure not the Mitch I never knew in our legislative battles.  But, I’m sure it’s the Mitch that most Hoosiers came to appreciate.

We will never know if one day Mitch Daniels would have been a statistical footnote of a wannabe Republican presidential contender, a Republican nominee or even president.  We will never know if an honest and frank discussion about our nation debt and entitlement programs between two intellectually superior candidates would have made a difference and changed direction of our nation.

But what we do know and what I believe is that President Obama should breathe a sigh of relief that Mitch Daniels doesn’t have him in his political sights!  Even a partisan democrat can appreciate good politics (now, I didn’t say policy) and Mitch Daniel’s application of politics is as good as it gets.


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Winners & Losers

The Times, They Are A-Changin’
By Russ Stilwell

A lot has happened since the opening gavel of the 2011 IN General Assembly session.  As Dylan sang decades ago, “The times, they are A-Changing
There were winners and losers, as well as a myriad of time bombs for campaigns to come and political junkies to ponder.  From the beginning, this session was going to be about change and how that change was defined. 
The Hoosier political landscape has changed.  New legislative maps entrench the Republicans for years to come.  Congressional maps had winners and losers and a host of new candidates are off to the races even though announcements are in the distant future.
Congressman Joe Donnelly gets screwed in the congressional maps and is positioned to be a formable U.S. Senate nominee.  Senator Lugar is challenged by the tea baggers and the half-cocked State Treasurer. And former Speaker John Gregg is on the democrat circuit. Sure looks like 2012 is going to be a fun year.
Governor Daniels will be making a decision in the next few weeks about his presidential ambitions.  Will he or won’t he?  You would have to be living under a rock if it did not look like a Daniels presidential run is imminent.
When House Dem Leader B. Patrick Bauer told me back in 2008 that Daniels was running for governor, I thought he was nuts.  As I have often said, never underestimate Pat Bauer.  The former Speaker got it right . . . and long before anyone even thought about a Daniel’s presidential run. Anyone that is, except maybe Daniels.
My guess is that the average Hoosier did not pay a lot of attention who they were voting for in 2010 and what the consequences might be.  My crystal ball also informs me that most aren’t fully informed about the massive change conducted in Indianapolis over the past few months.
But just wait.  I am certain that they will be fully informed of the mischief, the walkout and the attacks on public education, labor, Planned Parenthood and more.  Every conceivable political angle from every potential advantage point will be handfed to every constituency group for political advantage by the D’s and R’s.  After all, the election is only 18 months away. 
As with any session, there are winners and losers.  Here’s my list.
The Winners:
1.      Governor Daniels.  He laid out an aggressive agenda and he prevailed.  And now he is poised to make his run for the White House. 

2.      Senate & House Republicans.  They passed a budget, enacted the Daniel’s agenda and drew legislative maps that protect them for years and elections to come.

3.      Hoosier Business & Corporate Interests.  They got what they wanted in UI reform, got an early Christmas present in the form of a 25% tax cut and every conceivable gift the Republican majority could get wrapped.

4.      Private & Charter Schools.  They received an unprecedented expansion of Charter Schools and Vouchers from taxpayers. 

5.      Twenty newly elected House Republicans.  They stood up and were counted rather than standing down and heeding advice from wiser and more veteran lawmakers.  They were on a mission to move the state to the right or far-right and got the job done.

6.      NRA and Gun Lobby.  Every conceivable gun law that could be imagined was passed.  We may even change the name of a few of our smaller communities to Dodge City. 

7.      Right to Life.  They passed the most stringent bill on reproductive rights for women in the nation.  Did I say court challenge?  Hoosier women now can know for certain that breast cancer and abortion have a direct cause/effect, even though not one reputable health care expert believes this to be true

8.      Associated Building Contractors.    This non union segment of the Indiana construction industry stuck it to the union construction industry.  Now they can underbid, pay Hoosier hard hats less money and keep the difference for increased profit.  Nice work.

9.      Folks who Hate Unions.  This group, whoever they are, were the really big winners as the legislature took a meat cleaver (a non-union cleaver for sure) to unions without mercy.  Statutory elimination of state collective bargaining; restraints on local bargaining; a complete gutting (again by a non-union cleaver wielding meat cutter) of teacher collective bargain; and an all-out assault on Hoosier construction workers.

10.  Folks who Hate Public Education.  They got what they wanted.  The most expansive taxpayer funded voucher system in the nation.  Money will flow like a gushing fire hydrant from our public schools to private school.   

Now for the Losers.

1.      Governor Daniels.  He now has to put up with a national media cadre that will examine every aspect of his personal life, his political life and policies.  Bet his political temperament improves when the press questions his policies from a national pulpit.

2.      House Democrats.  They walked out in protest of a massive anti-worker agenda for a record five weeks.  And when they returned, the R’s continued their assault without a cease fire.  They did take Right to Work off the table and modify some of the more radical anti-school and labor initiatives. But the House D’s did make sure that it’s OK to stand up for things you believe in.  They get an A+ for this.

3.      Hoosier Workers & Unions.  They not only took in on the chin but took a hot poker in the eye for good measure.  It was an unprecedented massacre.  Cutting UI benefits for Hoosier Workers by 25% while cutting corporate taxes by the same amount.  Eliminating unions at the state level and curtailing them at the local level.  Outlawing project labor agreements w/o referendums.  This list is just too long to list. 

4.      Local Government, Local Control and Local Ordinances.  Just like Brian Howey reported a couple weeks ago, the legislature has anointed itself the City and County Council for the state.  Whether it’s the elected school board, the city or county council or the myriad of other local bodies, the legislature has decided that “Father Knows Best” when the legislature is in session.  Now we can have guns in the city council, our libraries and court house.  Everywhere but the premises where the law was conceived – the statehouse.

5.      Twenty New House Republicans.  What?  How can they be in both the winners and losers?  Simple.  They were elected by an unprecedented political tsunami and didn’t know it.  Now they have a voting record that the House D’s will blister them with.  Wanna bet that voters in many of these districts just might not like taxpayer funded vouchers for private schools?  Wanna bet that labor and teachers will be motivated with political steroids in 2012? 

6.      Planned Parenthood.  Again, Hoosiers women have been denied reproductive services by a majority of middle aged white men in suits.  And I’m not talking about abortion.  Women will no longer have the resources of Planned Parenthood.   Thanks like breast cancer screenings and birth control. 

7.      Public School Teachers and Public Education.  There was an all out assault on our public teachers with the elimination of collective bargaining, merit pay and a freight train of tax dollars delivered to private and charter schools.  If any group got a hot poker stuck in their eye it was our public educators.

8.      Hoosier Middle Class workers and Public Servants.  Indianapolis took a full frontal assault on those who teach our kids, build our highways and pick up our garbage.  Seems our public servants were the scapegoats.  Indiana is better than this, or at least it should be.  Reward the corporate community and tell the unemployed to do more with less.

9.      Right to Work Advocates.  Just when they thought they were on the verge of victory the House Democrats sent them a crushing message.  Enough is enough.  RTW was taken off the table almost as quickly as it was served.

10.  Middle Class Hoosiers.  House Democrat Leader B. Patrick Bauer said that voters will fill in “the real scorecard” within the next year as education reforms begin taking effect and priorities in the new state budget become apparent.  “This session proved the difference between the two parties,” Bauer said.  “We stood for the working people, the teachers, students, the elderly and disabled, and they didn’t.”  Time will tell.

Maybe it really is a little early to list the winners and losers.  But as Bob Dylan sang almost 50 years ago, The Times, They are A-Changin; the loser now will be later to win. 
Only time and Hoosier voters will reveal the outcome.  But for now, the Hoosier times are “A-Changin”.
 Come writeres and critics.who prophesize with your pen, and keep your eyes wide, the chance won’t come again.  Don’t speak too soon, for the wheel’s still in spin, and there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’, for the loser now will be later to win, fo

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Like a Box of Chocolates.

Like a Box of Chocolates

By:  Russ Stilwell

Tom Hank’s character, Forrest Gump, in the blockbuster movie of 1994 had one of the most famous lines from a movie of all time.  “My momma always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates.  You never know what you’re gonna get.”

 I would think that the 2011 Indiana General Assembly could be categorized much the same way.  You never know what you’re gonna get.

Who would have thought so much would have occurred in only one session of the legislature.  I guess elections do have consequences.  I would like to create a top ten, but the list just goes on and on and on and on.

In a session where the Republicans outnumbered democrats 60-40 in the House and quorum-proof in the Senate you would have expected the number one issue would be the budget, school reform, union bashing  or some other Governor Mitch initiative.

Nope, the #1 story for 2011 will be about the historic walkout by Pat Bauer and the House Democrats over the overreaching antics of the new-found House majority.

As the years go by, all the ramblings of political pundits on the myriad of issues and bills that took place in 2011 will pale in comparison to the defiant action of the House Democrats.  If you think things are bad now, just imagine what would have happened if the dems had stayed glued to their seats. 

The 2011 session will go down in history as one of the most sweeping, reform minded (both good and bad) legislative sessions in decades.  And it’s not even over yet!  Here’s some of my favorite “How do I explain this back home” initiatives. 

Voucher –School Reform #1:  Did I mention that we are going to have your state tax dollars going to private & religious schools?  Some even have the audacity to have us believe that this will not take monies from our public schools with this largest voucher proposal in the nation.

Merit Pay Reform #2:  Elimination of collective bargaining for all school employees and Merit Pay based on student performance.  Bet our school employees and teachers will pay close attention to election 2012!

Forced Consolidation Reform #3:  Let’s make sure that our small schools (less than 500 students) get $100 less per pupil funding than everyone else. Or you could just say we gave $100 more to everyone but them.  Bet this creative thinking works just fine for all those small schools in competitive House districts.  I’m looking forward to this explanation!  Surely this isn’t forced consolidation.

$150M more or $450M Less Reform #4:  Actually, this reform has two explanations.  You be the judge.  We increased K-12 funding by $150 million in the budget.  Or, you the budget are $450 million less than budgeted in 2009 for K-12.  Wanna bet that the R’s and D’s have completely different takes on this one?

UI Reform #5:  We finally corrected the UI fund and made it solvent.  Employers paid more and unemployed workers shared in the pain.  I would bet that the D’s will say that the R’s cut UI benefits 25% and for good measure gave a corporate tax cut of 25%.

Stick it to em Reform#6:  The R’s would have you believe our Hoosier state was finally brought into the 21st Century with logical and well thought out labor proposals that will grow our economy and create jobs.  Actually, I would think even the most ardent supporter of these draconian labor bills would say it was a “stick in the eye” of labor unions and working folks.  Or maybe just politics 101 political payback.

Union Busting Reform #7:  This list is actually too long to publish.  Eliminate Project Labor Agreements.  Make sure that our state employees never again belong to a union and ban collective bargaining for all state employees.  Ever wonder why they wanted a union?  Did I say fairness in the workplace and being treated as partners in our society? 

Right to Work Reform #8:  The Perfect Fix:  Once we do everything possible to offend anyone even remotely favorable of working folks and labor unions, let’s complete our agenda and pass Right-to-Work.  Sure, we won’t get any democrat votes but we can once and for all cripple those unions and their union bosses.  And in the process we can end the primary support for the Democrats.  Now, that didn’t work out too well, did it?  How many days did the dems stay out?  Did I say an energized democrat base in 2012?

Clean Up Reform #9:  A call to arms for our progressive Hoosier State.  Let’s make sure we change our constitution so we don’t have gay marriage even though we have a law already on the books and there has never been a gay marriage or the threat of a gay marriage in our state’s history.  While we’re at it, maybe the party of less government can make sure that local decision making is transferred to the state (guns, schools, taxes, labor, PLA’s, collective bargaining & bunches more). 

Say it ain’t so Charlie White Reform #10:  This is my favorite.  Let’s nominate an ineligible candidate for Sec State and see him win a landslide in our Republican state.  And once he’s indicted for felony election registration fraud . . .  and the Indiana Recount Commission rejects his removal . . . and a state court remands this back to the Recount Commission for another look . . . just change the law!  I’m sure the Senate party line vote had nothing to do with a GOP power grab to undo the tidy little mess they find themselves in.  Sure is hard to explain this one with a straight face.

And I didn’t even mention redistricting and a strong statewide ticket for dems in 2012.  Maybe we can save these for another day.  Our legislative initiatives really are like a box of chocolates.