TERRE HAUTE —
Last week’s decision by Democrats to switch leaders in the Indiana House of Representatives could spice up voters’ choices in the November election.
Members of the House’s minority party caucus on voted to replace longtime frontman Patrick Bauer with Rep. Linda Lawson of Hammond. Their meeting was attended by 23 of the 40 House Democrats. Those attending refused to reveal how each voted, but at least 21 votes were required to oust Bauer as leader.
With just 100 days left before the election, the shakeup pursued by disgruntled Democrats will be cast by rival Republicans as an act of desperation. Some Democrats questioned the move, too. “I worry about the message it sends to folks,” Rep. Clyde Kersey, a Terre Haute Democrat, told the Tribune-Star. Kersey praised Bauer’s performance in recruiting Democratic candidates for this fall’s election.
Others worried that without a change at the top, Democrats could lose more House seats in November, further marginalizing the party. They’re already outnumbered 60 to 40 in the House, after a Republican landslide in 2010. The prospect of Republicans amassing 67 seats is quite real, and would give the GOP a “super majority,” allowing them to conduct business without any Democrats present. In other words, the underdogs’ last tool of opposition — a walkout, employed in divisive fashion during the past two Republican-dominated sessions of the General Assembly — would be gone.
The Democrats behind last week’s switch aptly sensed voters were not being won over, despite Bauer’s willingness to faceoff with the top Republicans, namely Gov. Mitch Daniels, over controversial reforms of education and labor laws. Those Democrats also expressed frustration that Bauer controlled the caucus flow of information and decision-making, and conducted few meetings. Ironically, Bauer was not at Thursday’s meeting, but after the change was made, Rep. Ed DeLaney of Indianapolis forecast a new operating style — a “polar opposite.”
“The other model says we try to get the best out of every one of our members — we may have some disagreements, but we have our team approach,” DeLaney said. To Bauer’s credit, the veteran of 42 years in the Legislature praised his successor and promised support.
The prospect of House Democrats exercising more freedom to pitch ideas and rebuild some bridges with Republican colleagues sounds refreshing. If Democrat candidates offer creative plans in the coming election season, Hoosiers may vote a more balanced slate of state representatives into office. The presence of a super majority in both the Indiana House and Senate limits the chances of active bipartisanship.
If Indiana Democrats intend to provide resolute, unique solutions to problems such as low wages and high poverty rates, they’ll need to be more dynamic inside the Statehouse. Give and take between the majority Republicans and the minority Democrats is healthy for the legislative branch of government. Such fruitful discourse has been rare during the past two General Assembly sessions. The House Democrats appear convinced that installing Rep. Lawson as minority leader strengthens their future. Let’s hope it signals better communication among all legislators in 2013.