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By J SWYGART
So, in the end, Indiana’s right to work battle boiled down — at least as Statehouse Republicans describe it — to nothing more than a mere constitutional issue.
Sure, GOP leaders hinted, they’d have been more than willing to put the contentious issue to a vote of Indiana’s populace, but their hands were tied — in a strictly legal sense. Indiana’s constitution simply does not allow for statewide referendums, so there was no other choice, really, than to adopt a new law making Indiana the 23rd state in the nation to ban companies from negotiating a contract that requires non-union members to pay a fee for representation.
Most of that blather, in reality, is hogwash, and we all know it. But in the final analysis, yes, the Republicans were right on this one, from a technical standpoint. The Indiana state constitution, as currently written, limits voter referendums to local issues, while not allowing for statewide ones.
But it’s an oversight, a technicality, if you will, that could easily be remedied.
Given the current state of politics in this country and state, the right to work legislation hardly seems like the last issue that will deeply divide the General Assembly — and the good people of Indiana — in coming years. Surely there will be others.
Those divisive issues may not even be on the radar at the current time, and certainly don’t include such trivial matters such as single-class basketball, cursive writing or even the singing of the national anthem — all issues with which this year’s crop of legislators wasted their time.
But one only has to look backwards a few years to a time when another controversial issue — strict limits on property taxes — had the General Assembly tied in knots. The Indiana Property Tax Cap Amendment to the state constitution was on the November 2, 2010 ballot in the state of Indiana as a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment, and it was overwhelmingly approved by the voting public.
So the Indiana constitution, apparently, is not written in stone. But why is it that the right-to-work issue was not deemed but Statehouse Republicans as worthy of another exception of constitutional rigidity? There has been no more divisive issue confronting the state in recent years. And there surely are more to come. So why not a change to the state constitution that does allow for statewide referendums? It’s difficult to grasp why the concept failed to warrant even passing mention.
But meanwhile, back at the status quo ranch, it’s been often said that elections have consequences, and Indiana Democrats in recent years have had that lesson reinforced in spades. Columnist Brian Howey last week put much of the blame for the right to work debacle on the shoulders of House Minority Leader Pat Bauer, asserting that Bauer’s failure to work hard enough to secure attractive candidates for state House races subsequently left the Democrats in too weak a position to put up even a decent fight against RTW.
While it’s difficult to disagree with that assessment, let us suggest there is plenty of blame to go around, inside the Indianapolis beltway and out, for the Democrats’ current untenable standing in Indianapolis and throughout the state.
Republicans can, it seems, quite simply recruit electable candidates. And Democrats can’t. Why is that?
Whatever the reason, one needs look no further than Adams County during the current election cycle to see the proof in the pudding. Of the 19 hopefuls who have announced their candidacies to date for eight countywide offices, only five are Democrats.
Of the two Democrats who have announced plans to oppose Republican Congressman Marlin Stutzman for Indiana’s 3rd Congressional District seat, one was removed after a previous election victory when it was discovered he was registered to vote in Green Bay, Wis. The other was fired from the Fort Wayne Police Department in 1999 after being disciplined 28 times.
Wonder who’s gonna win the election between Stutzman and one of those two?
Union supporters recently told State Rep. Matt Lehman and State Sen. Travis Holdman, both Republicans, that “we’re gonna fire you” for their support of right-to-work. But it’s been proved often that you can’t beat somebody with nobody.
There’s a problem within the Democrat Party throughout Indiana. Blaming Pat Bauer is a good place to start, but it’s no place to end the discussion. Respectable, electable Democratic candidates are out there. Why can’t the party find them?
The author is the opinion page editor of the Decatur Daily Democrat.