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Friday, February 25, 2011

Band on the run – Democratic state lawmakers bust a move, take budget standoffs to new heights

Enough with legislators on the lam already.

This tactic sparked imaginations in 2003 when Democratic state legislators in Texas bolted amid redistricting shenanigans practiced by former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay (now a convicted felon) and his cronies in Austin. They prevented a quorum by hiding out in Oklahoma, stalling measures in the capital in hopes of blocking the action.

Throughout the Midwest these days, this seems to be the protest move of choice in a fight over the right of collective bargaining for public sector unions.

First, to the chagrin of some, the Democratic minority of the Wisconsin’s state senate hot-foot it out of town for “undisclosed locations,” though most clues point to Illinois.

Now, it’s the vocal – and equally fleet-footed – Democratic minority of Indiana’s legislature, also Illinois-bound. Maybe that’s because the state is credited with originating the tactic back in the 1840s.

While the travel and tourism bureau for the Land of Lincoln is probably tickled by this latest influx of lawmakers light and in flight, the need for such antics is lame.

Guessing the Democratic Wisconsin state senators want to avoid a repeat of what happened in the state House in the wee Friday hours, when the Republican majority bum-rushed  the vote.  They might be slowing the wheel, but they still look like punks unable to outfox their opponents. That prowess is what separates pols from pretenders – not frequent Amtrak miles.

It’s time someone played grown up and learned to actually negotiate and legislate. The latest winner-takes-all mentality sends the wrong message about our democracy to those observing our politics, be they young people domestically or overseas. Besides, even “upper hands” can look weak when “leaders” like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker are outed for seeking power more so than any purported taxpayer savings.

As a nation, it’s mighty hard to argue against hardliners in Iran when Madison and Indianapolis seem to be vying for best-dictator-enabled-regime-impersonators-in-a-real-life-drama.

Heaven forbid Pennsylvania lawmakers start getting the bright idea of following suit. Illinois is already crowded, and New York, New Jersey and Delaware probably have extradition treaties in place. That leaves West Virginia, which would probably give most Pennsylvania Dems pause and make them stay in place for a while longer.

At least for now, newbie Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett is bypassing this page from an apparent Republican National Committee blueprint to soften the field in 2012. Wisconsin and Indiana look like carbon copies: proclaim fiscal crises, try like hell to finally topple Democratic-leaning unions, claim moral high ground due to “the will of the people,” point to election results as inoculating proof.

GOP lawmakers in California,Idaho and Tennessee are trying it, and they won’t be the last. As state budget woes crash into the presidential campaign season, expect to hear this refrain more frequently – especially in areas where big union voter turnout could make the difference for President Obama.

California Assemblyman Allan Mansoor (R-Costa Mesa) told the Associated Press that "it's very hard to rein things in under the current process. Pensions are out of control. They have to be brought back in line with the private sector."

For those of you keeping score at home, the average private-sector pension is a fat zero, but kinder outfits may contribute to a 401(k) plan – at least they might have before this most recent economic downturn.

Maybe we can quarantine this outbreak of bait and switch union-busting lawmaking to stem the infection, and start revoking driver’s licenses of lawmakers, as a backup, lest this flight fever flow nationwide.

While entertaining and certainly a change in how we run government, it’s not one we want to believe in. Or deserve.


  1. Maybe the "need" for such antics is lame, but what about the reality of the vote? Is this not the best possible way for the protesting unions et. al. in Wis. to get their demands met? This looks like Political and Public cooperation..

  2. Not really. In the end, all sides are going to have to sit down and talk. Now while I admit that what passes for negotiation on the part of Republicans is "we'll take everything and you'll get nothing and like it", you still have to be in the room. You still have to give it a shot.

    You still have to act like a grown up.

    But I keep forgetting. I'm expecting politicians to act like grown ups. It is, to quote Christopher Hitchens in Vanity Fair, enough to make a cat laugh. (I have cats. They don't laugh much). We need mature, serious people to come up with mature, serious solutions to these and the other issues facing our country.

    Instead, the clown car of our governmental circus has opened, and the clowns are pouring out.

  3. In the end, folks need to know the consequences of their vote -- or lack thereof. All the theoretical gets really serious when items like these hit home. Wisconsin voters are waking up to that reality.

    Yes, the governor has the votes, but he lost control of the message (getting punk'd will do that to you). If the Dems want to advance the debate, and not be distractions, get into the meat of the story -- but don't be the story.

  4. It seems to me that the Dem's are holding out because they don't have the numbers. If the show up, the vote is forced to the floor and they loose. Looks like a classic game of Brinkmanship to me. The Gov. is still holding out - I think this is a good idea. Who will blink first?