Dems Hunker Down On Day 5 Of Walkout

Lawmakers Gather For Closed-Door Meetings

Indiana House Democrats holed up in Illinois met behind closed doors Friday on the fifth day of their Statehouse walkout.

The group of about 30 Democrats have said they plan to be out of the state through at least Monday as they battle with majority Republicans over labor and education issues from Urbana, Ill., about 100 miles west of Indianapolis, 6News' Rafael Sanchez reported.

"We've received hundreds of e-mails from people who support us and those who have concerns and are saying, you know, 'Get back to work,'" said Rep. Peggy Welch, D-Bloomington. "We, as a minority, we don't expect we're going to get everything we ask for, but we have some concerns."

The Indiana House is at a standstill until Democrats return because there aren't enough Republicans for a quorum, which is required to conduct business in the chamber.

Republicans have agreed to drop so-called right to work legislation, but Democrats have said they also want compromise on what they call anti-union and anti-education bills.

"Every bill has been like a bomb, a bomb on the middle class, a bomb on education," said Minority Leader Rep. Pat Bauer.

"They (Republicans) have to stop the systematic dismantling of public education," said Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City. "We need to improve our schools, not tear them apart."

Democrats also bristle at the suggestion that they're the first to stage a walkout in recent years.

"It's the first time it's happened in terms of going out of state, but the Republicans walked out when we were in the majority," said Rep. Bill Crawford, D-Indianapolis. "(Republican House Speaker) Brian Bosma says it's the first time he's seen in history. Well he's engaging in revisionist history."

Butler University history professor George Geib said that while it's not unheard of for minority parties to boycott legislative sessions and go home, taking off en masse for another state is unprecedented.

"I think what we're seeing here is the aftermath of the remarkable election shift in 2010," he said. "I think we're seeing people who felt fairly comfortable in control of a number of state legislatures showing us they feel very uncomfortable out of control."

Bosma has adjourned the House until Monday. He said Republicans intend to push back the deadline for passing House bills by one week, from Friday to March 4.

Geib said he believes the only way to make things work is to start talking.

"I think we're looking at a situation here where the recent precedents say, whether you like it or not, you've got to sit down and talk," he said.

Absent lawmakers have pledged to return their daily allowance for the days they've been out of state, amounting to $152 for each day. The Indiana Democratic Party has said it will pick up the costs of hotel rooms and rental cars.