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Lawmaker walkouts not uncommon

Experts say both sides use walkouts to have a voice

February 23, 2011|By Dustin Grove (

A walkout and road trip across state lines is certainly not something we see every year from our state lawmakers, but experts say it's not unheard of.

"Probably the more nationally famous walkout over redistricting occurred in Texas," said Sean Savage, a political science professor at Saint Mary’s College.

It was 2003. Democrats headed for neighboring New Mexico. And we just saw it in Wisconsin, where lawmakers prevented a vote on the plan to cut bargaining rights for state workers.

Even in Indiana. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle — depending on the year — have walked out to prove a point.

The last time a situation like this occurred was back in 2005. Democrats stayed in their caucus room and refused to come to the House floor. They said they were taking a stand against the voter ID legislation. That law eventually passed.


Democrats also had a longer boycott in 1995.

Republicans walked out in 2001. That was over the redrawing of legislative districts. The walkout lasted two days, and was led by Brian Bosma, minority leader and now current house speaker.

That walkout ended when Democrats agreed to compromise. 

Republicans also walked out in 1991 and 1975.

Savage says as the minority party, put yourself in their shoes.

"This is the only thing we can do,” he said. “If we simply stay there and try to oppose it in the legislative process, we're not going to get anywhere."

They just wouldn't have enough votes. So they take off — trying to force the majority party to listen and hopefully negotiate. And savage says they often do get something.

"We've already seen that here in Indiana,” he said. “We already saw one of the things they wanted was to kill the ‘Right-to-Work’ bill and that has happened."

But he says it's important not to overplay your hand. In the court of public opinion, it could backfire big time.

“To the point that more and more Hoosiers say 'those guys aren't doing their jobs. They're not earning their pay, that's not what they're elected to do,’" Savage said.

One question WSBT has been getting from people e-mailing us is: Who is paying for this Democratic road trip to Illinois? Representative Craig Fry said he assumes it will come out of their own pocket.

Ryan Dvorak said the state Democratic Party made the hotel reservations. As for who's picking up the tab, we called the party chair and we're still waiting to hear back.

The bills of concern to House Democrats:


HB 1002 Charter School Expansion. Diverts state funding to experimental schools at a time when the state has cut funding to local schools by $600 million over the past two years.

HB 1003 School Vouchers. Allows a family of four making over $80,000 a year to receive taxpayer dollars to send their children to a private school.

HB 1479 Private Takeover of Public Schools. Allows the state of Indiana to take over poorly performing schools and for these schools to be managed by for-profit companies. It removes local decision making in schools.

HB 1584 Public School Waiver of state laws. Allows school boards to seek waivers of almost any school law or regulation.


HB 1468 Right to work. Places the government between employers and their workers. It weakens the ability of working people to bargain for fair wages and safe work environments.

HB 1216 Public Works Projects and Common Construction Wage. Weakens the ability of government to ensure that tax dollars are paid to the best and most qualified workers on public works projects, and that these tax dollars are spent at home.

HB 1203 Employee representations. Ends employee rights to join a union by secret ballot and opens employees up to retaliation and firing by an employer who finds out they are trying to use their right to bargain. This is preempted by federal law. Will require the state to use taxpayer dollars to defend this legislation.

HB 1450 Unemployment Insurance. Shifts hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes from big businesses to small business and will cut benefits for unemployed workers by 25%.

HB 1585 Right to work for Public Employees. Removes collective bargaining rights at the local level.

HB 1538 Minimum wages. Precludes a community from determining what wages are appropriate for its area.

HB 1001 Budget Bill. Allowed no public testimony on a school funding formula that cuts state support for K-12 across Indiana.

Statement from the Indiana House Democratic Caucus:

"The past few days have seen an unprecedented attack on Hoosier families by a radical House Republican agenda that will hurt millions in both the classroom and the pocketbook.

"House Democrats find it hard to believe that these proposals affecting so many are being advanced in the name of 'reform.' In point of fact, they are anti-child and anti-worker, and there needs to be sufficient time for the people of this state to examine the length and depth of what is being attempted here.

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