INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (WHAS11) In a forceful clarification of earlier, more conciliatory comments, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels (R) said Wednesday that Republicans "will not be bullied or blackmailed out of pursuing the agenda we laid in front of the people of Indiana."
"That agenda is going to get voted on," Daniels pledged in an afternoon news conference, as most House Democrats remained absent, having fled to Illinois to avoid being compelled to report for duty in the legislature.
The legislative session is scheduled to end on April 29, but Daniels said he would schedule special sessions "from now to New Year’s" if necessary.
For a third straight day, most Indiana House Democrats did not show up at the statehouse on Wednesday in a strategy designed to thwart the agenda of the Republican majority, particularly measures that would undermine labor unions.
One of the most contentious issues, "Right to Work" legislation ws declared dead on Wednesday by Indiana Senate President Pro Tempore David Long (R-Fort Wayne), but House Democratic leaders say they want Republicans to agree to negotiations on 11 other pieces of legislation before they agree to return from exile at an Urbana, Illinois hotel.
And, labor leaders say they don't trust Republicans to keep their word.
"That language can be inserted into any other bill down the road," said Jeff Harris, Indiana Director of the AFL-CIO."
Harris called the Republican bills an "out of state agenda funded by corporations,"
"We are Indiana," Harris continued, "and all we are asking for is a seat at the table in determining our future."
One Southern Indiana Democrat who is not on board with the Illinois exodus told WHAS11 News that he is hoping to help reconcile the differences.
"I'm transitioning now into a role of trying to mediate between the two sides," said Rep. Steve Stemler (D-Jeffersonville).
"I'm here out of principle and out of respect for the institution, frankly," Stemler said, "I take it very seriously, one of 100 selected to represent in this state."
Asked if he approved of the actions of the other Democrats, Stemler demurred.
"Well, I'm here and ready to work," said Stemler, "and to be a voice for my district."
Asked if Republicans would try to steamroll legislation if his fellow Democrats returned, Stemler defended the opposing party, saying he has seen bipartisan progress on the Commerce, Small Business & Economic Development Committee that he chairs.
"I see it going a few more days," Stemler said of the stalemate, "probably over the weekend, then some movement to work out our differences."
In earliler statements, Daniels had said that he would prefer that the Right to Work legislation not be brought to a vote in this session because it was not a major issue in the 2010 campaign, a message repeated by protestors.
"I voted Republican," admitted Indianapolis Teamster Mike Eckerty, "and no one I voted for had a platform (of) Right to Work."
The swarm of union protestors inside the capitol has now grown into the thousands. They cram the hallways, have set up camp on the marble floor and their roars can be heard inside the House chamber.
"We are not being heard," said Jeff Harris, "so we're going to stay here until they get the message."
Only three of the 40 House Democrats are attending legislative sessons. Most of the absent representatives are in Illinois, denying the Republican majority a quorum which prevents any
legislation from moving forward.
With each day that passes, more bills are dying, including seemingly non-controversial measures that have been caught in the crossfire.
"We will not concede to a list of demands from those who have vacated this state," House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) said to representatives gathered for the morning session.
"We have not fled to Illinois," countered Greg Porter (D-Indianapolis) when asked by a WRTV-TV reporter at a Comfort Suites Hotel in Urbana, "We are here working hard. We had 106 amendments that we went through last night. I have amendments in regards to education bills that we are working on."
"I hope that the Democratic representatives just like me understand their job is to be here," said Sue Ellspermann (R-Ferdinand), "and represent the people."
Ellspermann represents portions of Dubois, Perry, Spencer and Warrick counties in Southern Indiana and serves on the committee which approved the Right to Work legislation.
"You as an employee cannot be required to be part of that union. That's all it says," Ellspermann explained, "and it doesn't even include the building trades."
"Wages would start to go down immediately," warned Aaron Jackson, a union member from Salem, "You'll see contractors coming in from all over the country." Jackson said the result for Indiana workers would be "devastating."
By letting some workers opt out of paying union dues, unions fear that "Right to Work" would sap their political power.
"As a result of the 2010 elections, their approach now that they are in power is to try to drive us underground and make sure we never come back again," said Chris Sanders of Louisville, who represents about 3,000 Southern Indiana members of the American Food and Commercial Workers Union (AFCW).
"This is a resurrection," Sanders said as the shouts of union members echoed through the marble capitol.
Sanders has been at the capitol since Monday and plans to stay "as long as it takes."
"We believe in negotiations. We don't believe in losing our voice," Sanders said, "That's why we're making a lot of noise here today."