For the four Republican legislators on the dais and the majority of the audience in attendance at Ivy Tech Saturday, there was little doubt that all of the bad guys currently reside in Illinois.
Specifically, they were upset with 39 Indiana Democratic House members, whose walkout four weeks ago now threatens to send the 2011 Indiana General Assembly into a special session.
“It’s up to you — the boss — to see how your servants behave,” State Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo said at Saturday’s Third House session, referring to Indiana taxpayers.
“If your servant decided not to show up for two days, they probably wouldn’t be in your employ very long. If they decided not to show up for five weeks, well, there wouldn’t even be a question, because you would have fired them four weeks ago.”
“What happened is so egregious, so out of bounds, I just don’t understand how a [Democratic legislator], in good conscience, can think you’re representing all of your constituents,” State Rep. Mike Karickhoff, R-Kokomo, said. “It really sullies the democratic process. It puts a demeanor about it that’s not civil.”
Though several other topics received mention at Saturday’s third installment of the Kokomo-Howard County Chamber of Commerce-sponsored Third House forum, Buck, Karickhoff, State Rep. Eric Turner, R-Gas City, and State Rep. Heath VanNatter, R-Kokomo, spent upward of 80 percent of the 90-minute session excoriating the Democrat walkout.
That was fine with most of the audience, as the question-and-answer period was dominated by queries as to why the Republican legislators aren’t doing more to fine the Democrats or compel them forcibly to return.
“I think it’s just deplorable. Why aren’t you more forceful in explaining how unprecedented this is?” said Kokomo resident Matthew Turner. “It’s got to be illegal. It just seems like there should be something you can do.”
Kokomo resident Margaret Smiley asked, “What can I do to express my outrage?”
“I could give a flip answer and say, ‘Remember in November,’” Buck replied. “But if we knew what to do [about the walkout], we’d have done it.”
Both Buck and Turner said Republicans are in the process of amending House bills that have already made it over to the Senate, rearranging the language in a way that would make it possible for the remaining House Republicans to approve some of the measures on a simple concurrence vote.
But with the Democrats showing no signs of returning, Buck said all of the legislation originating from the Senate will be effectively dead.
And if the Democrats don’t return, the Legislature will need a special session to pass a budget and new redistricting maps, the only measures the Legislature is required by law to complete.
Turner said Gov. Mitch Daniels will act decisively if the Legislature hasn’t passed a budget by the time the current budget expires on July 1.
“I’ll tell you this; the governor will shut down state government. He won’t play games. He’ll have us in here on July 1, on July 2, on July 3 ... I don’t think the governor will think one thing about how the shutdown affects state government,” Turner said.
Buck extended his criticism to include the recent pro-labor rallies at the Indiana Statehouse.
“It’s very hard to explain to my staff and pages that intelligent people can conduct themselves like they’ve conducted themselves,” Buck said, adding that he’s had to deal with “whistles and horns and shouting boos, and all kinds of riotous behavior.”
Buck said the state’s unions spent much of the 1990s beating up prospective employers, and said the Republican leadership has been trying to dig out of a hole ever since.
“People don’t forget how they’re treated, when they know the market is liquid,” Buck said. “Until that segment of society figures it out, we’re all going to have to struggle.”
Kokomo resident David Tharp asked all four Republicans whether they would ever participate in a walkout, asking them to answer “yes” or “no.”
Both Karickhoff and VanNatter answered with a flat “no,” but Buck sought to make a distinction between participating in a walkout and participating in a Senate Republican caucus.
Buck said he would participate in a caucus, even if it meant missing a call for a quorum.
The Senate, with a 37-13 Republican majority, already has too few Democrats to either pass legislation without Republicans, or to deny the majority a quorum.
“If you’re asking would I leave the Statehouse, the answer is no,” Buck added. “Would I leave the state? No.”
“I agree with everything Jim Buck just said,” Turner added.
• Scott Smith is a Kokomo Tribune staff writer. He may be reached at 765-454-8569 or via e-mail at email@example.com