Many times, Indiana voters believe they are the ones in control of their legislators’ decisions. Many Hoosiers write letters, sign petitions or approach senators and representatives with the idea that, in some minor way, they can influence actions in the Statehouse.
But there was one activity that regular tax-paying Hoosiers couldn’t control — the decision by Democrat House members to leave the 2011 and 2012 sessions as a way to prevent a quorum and stop passage of the controversial right-to -work legislation.
Democrats, in the House minority both years, went to Illinois, where they couldn’t be hauled back into session.
Other Hoosiers — the ones who don’t work as Democrats in the House — stayed in the state to earn paychecks so they could continue to pay their elected legislators. No Hoosier can be proud of the walkout; it signaled an unwillingness to adhere to the process for which the legislators are elected.
In response to the walkouts, the House Republican caucus imposed fines on the absent legislators amounting to more than $100,000. The Democratic caucus filed suit seeking to recover the fines and arguing they should not have been taken from their paychecks.
The issue — a still irritating saga in Hoosier history now — worked its way to the Indiana Supreme Court, which issued a 25-page opinion last week.
The court acknowledged it generally has the power to settle disputes. But the justices decided that it would be inappropriate for them to resolve a squabble in another branch of government. The fines stand.
By claiming to not pass judgment, the court indeed passed judgment in favor of House Republicans. Justices haven’t backed away from other political issues. They upheld the school voucher program in March. In 2011, the court ruled that homeowners couldn’t resist illegal police entry, sparking a protest rally and a legislative vote to overturn the ruling. It is common for the Supreme Court to decide the legal fate of legislative actions and to uphold conservative views.
Make no mistake. The Democrats who spent time in Urbana, Ill., should be fined. They wasted taxpayers’ time and money.
But for most Hoosiers, legislators and justices should strive to avoid blatant political gamesmanship.
A walkout by any party is wrong. The court ruling to uphold fines is correct.
So maybe it’s time for House members to remember they need to serve Hoosier taxpayers.