Indiana Democrats flee home state to challenge anti-union bill

_Editors note: This article is part of The Daily Illini’s year in review edition. These articles are meant to round-up the most important news of the academic year, Fall 2010 through Spring 2011._

Faced with legislation they considered “anti-union” and “radical,” Indiana democratic state representatives fled their home state from February 22 to March 28, breaking quorum and bringing the lawmaking process to a halt in the Indianapolis State Capitol.

The legislators fled to the Comfort Suites hotel in Urbana, with Rep. Win Moses, who represents Fort Wayne, calling Champaign-Urbana the “closest place … (a) hundred some miles down the highway.”

With much of the media focus on the high profile bills aimed towards unions in Indiana, the lawmakers said there were many more bills and reasons behind their action.

Rep. Sheila Klinker, who represents West Lafayette, said legislation focused on restricting same-sex marriage and immigrants was a concern for her.

“It is just like Arizona’s, maybe a little worse as I’ve read it,” she said.

“In addition to what we think are over-reaching agendas that are really negative for the state of Indiana.”

Vernon Smith, representative of Gary and a professor at Indiana University, said the Republican Party in Indiana was attempting to “erode our base.”

“They know that our base is made of teachers and union workers. So the attack is on those two entities,” he said. “Blaming the teachers for everything that’s happening in education and then the unions because they want to say that the middle class is overpaid.”

The Democrats’ presence in Urbana brought several protests and rallies during their stay.

The Champaign Tea Party protested the decision of the legislators to leave their state, instructing them to return to Indiana.

After the Champaign Tea Party announced they would protest, the Champaign County Democrats organized a counter-protest.

Frank Barham, chair of the Champaign Tea Party, said they were rallying because the group was for government legislators “being responsible and doing their job.”

Phil Peterson of Gibson City, who rallied with the Champaign Tea Party, said the legislators needed to leave and to return to the job they were elected to do.

“Elections have consequences. They lost, they took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the state of Indiana; if you run away from your job, you are not upholding your job,” he said.

After returning to their home state on March 28, the fled legislators were left with an $84,953.70 hotel bill.

It has been confirmed that Democrat-backing unions and other contributors have picked up the tab, contributing close to $140,000 to the Indiana Democratic Party during the time the legislators were out of state.

The contributions have raised questions as to the legality of these “in-kind contributions,” with Democrats maintaining this is an issue brought up by the Republicans carrying no merit.

“The Indiana Republican Party would rather focus on baseless and false accusations about campaign fundraising than on an agenda that puts middle-class Hoosiers first,” said Dan Parker, Indiana Democratic Party Chair, in an email.

While the Indiana Republicans have no doubt about where the money came from, they are hoping all legal concerns and issues will be addressed by the Indiana Elections Commission soon.