Both Sides Claim Victory With End Of Indiana House Standoff

This post has been updated with Daniels’ statement.

Now that the month-long standoff between Indiana state House Democrats and the Republicans running the Hoosier state government is over, both sides are claiming to have come out on top.

The arguments go like this: Democrats say they raised the curtain on the usually unwatched state legislature by going AWOL, turning public opinion against the majority Republicans and winning some key concessions in the House at least that will temper the way debate moves forward on key issues like education reform and the right of workers to form unions. Republicans say that with the legislative session back on track, they’ll finally be able to push through significant changes to the way Indiana operates, leaving their mark on the Hoosier state as voters intended them to do.

Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) released a strong statement defending his agenda from Democratic attack. The standoff was seen as putting a crimp in Daniels’ presidential plans, costing him time and — thanks to the deal struck — a significant part of his education reform plan.“Our pro-jobs agenda of low spending, low taxes, and educational improvement is squarely in the Hoosier mainstream,” Daniels said. “The only thing ‘radical’ about this session has been the decision by one caucus to walk off the job for five weeks.”

“Now that it’s finally over,” he added, “let’s make up the lost time.”

Democrats say they struck a blow against an legislative priority list that was anything but “Hooiser mainstream.”

“We won a battle,” House Democratic leader Patrick Bauer told TPM in an interview. “But the war is not over.”

Bauer said his side won “moderation” in several Republican proposals by fleeing Indiana for more than month. He said House Republicans have promised to drop some laws opposed by organized labor supporters, including a permanent ban on collective bargaining for state workers and a bill that would have turned Indiana into a so-called “right-to-work” state.

On education, the signature policy program for Daniels, Bauer cautioned that Democrats only won promises from the state House to alter Daniels’ proposal to provide private school vouchers to a vast number of Indiana households. Under the deal worked out by the House leaders, the number of vouchers will be capped at 7,500 in the first year and 15,000 in the second. Also the income level required to qualify for the vouchers has been reduced from around $100,000 per family to $61,000. Bauer called both concessions a big win for public school supporters.

“Voucher bill was the worst in the country,” he said. “That’s been reduced substantially, so there won’t money coming our of our public schools.”

But the House leader stressed that the proposals don’t end with the House deal.

“These bills go forth. They go to the Senate,” Bauer said. “We can’t guarantee what the Senate does.”

Bauer said it’s possible that Democrats could flee again if the GOP doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain, but he said that probably won’t be necessary. That’s because the standoff has led to a new public focus on the legislature that Bauer says will keep the Republicans in check.

“The legislature doesn’t get a lot of attention,” Bauer said. “After we were gone, people were paying more attention.”

“[The Republicans] found out people like public schools,” he added. “They found out people like living wages. People weren’t aware of these bills.”

Meanwhile, the GOP says that with the Democratic roadblock out of the way, they can finally get through legislation that will turn the public to their side.

“The important thing to remember is despite House Democrats claiming some sort of victory, Governor Daniels’ agenda — which balances the budget without raising taxes and implements important education reforms — will pass,” a Republican operative told TPM.

The state party chair, Eric Holcomb, said now Republicans can start doing what they were elected to do. He praised House Speaker Brian Bosma (R) and called on the Democrats to stay put now that they’re back on Hoosier soil.

“Speaker Bosma has stood strong for the majority of Hoosiers who cast their ballots for these important reforms last November,” he said in a statement. “Now, for the next month, members of the General Assembly have much to do in a short time.”