Indiana Dems follow Wisconsin’s lead, flee state

INDIANA DEMS FOLLOW WISCONSIN’S LEAD, FLEE STATE…. Republican officials in several states are proposing awful measures for working families, but terrific proposals to boost the hotel industry in Illinois.

House Democrats are leaving the state rather than vote on anti-union legislation, The Indianapolis Star has learned.

A source said Democrats are headed to Illinois, though it was possible some also might go to Kentucky. They need to go to a state with a Democratic governor to avoid being taken into police custody and returned to Indiana.

The House came into session this morning, with only two of the 40 Democrats present. Those two were needed to make a motion, and a seconding motion, for any procedural steps Democrats would want to take to ensure Republicans don’t do anything official without quorum.

With only 58 legislators present, there was no quorum present to do business. The House needs 67 of its members to be present.

The Indiana measure isn’t identical to the GOP union-busting efforts in Wisconsin, but it’s another attempt to limit workers’ collective bargaining rights — the proposal would “bar unions and companies from negotiating a contract that requires non-union members to kick-in fees for representation.”

The response from Indiana Republicans is identical to that of Wisconsin Republicans: leaving the state to deny a quorum is inherently wrong. And at face-value, I can see why the GOP’s talking points might even seem credible — lawmakers, the argument goes, are paid to be in the chamber working, not fleeing.

But there are a couple of angles to keep in mind here. The first is that this has been a fairly common tactic for a very long time. The Wall Street Journal noted the other day, “The tactic of quorum avoidance by simply leaving dates back at least to the days when the U.S. Constitution was being debated.” Alex Seitz-Wald had an item over the weekend highlighting the time Abraham Lincoln literally jumped out a window 170 years ago to deny a quorum in Illinois.

It’s not, in other words, some kind of unprecedented abuse. It may not seem ideal, but it has an obvious place in the American tradition.

The second is that the tactic itself has a Washington-based parallel. Matt Yglesias explained last week that quorum avoidance is “more like a ‘classic’ filibuster than a modern-style routine supermajority. The Democratic caucus of the State Senate can’t hold out forever, nor can they pull this every time Governor Walker proposes a bill they don’t like. What they can do is slow things down and try to see if public opinion swings around to their side.”

Ezra Klein added, “It’s an attempt to dramatize the depth of their opposition, throw some sand in the gears of the process and see whether a couple of days of protests and media coverage can turn the tide on this one.”

And as of this afternoon, the idea is spreading.

Update: The chair of Indiana Democratic Party confirmed on the record that the state lawmakers have, in fact, left the state to deny Republicans quorum.