Offered ‘my way or the highway,’ Indiana Democrats take to the road

State Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan is as moderate a voice on education issues as you’ll find among Indiana House Democrats. An organizer of the new group Indiana Democrats for Education Reform, she is co-author of a bill to expand charter schools and favors parts of the Daniels-Bennett education agenda.

But she’s with her Democratic colleagues at the Comfort Suites hotel in Urbana, Ill., helping put the brakes on what caucus leaders call a “radical agenda” to dismantle public education, drive down wages, and roll back workers’ rights.

Sullivan might not use the same rhetoric. But she said the onslaught of proposed changes in how schools operate, coupled with the Republican majority’s refusal to compromise, forced Democrats to take dramatic action to call attention to the issues.

“If at least more people pay attention to what’s happening, I think that’s a worthy goal in itself,” Sullivan, D-Indianapolis, told School Matters.

The straw that broke the camel’s back, she said, was the right-to-work bill that Republicans pushed through the House Labor Committee Monday. Democrats left town the next day.

Let’s just say it’s a mystery why House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, advanced the right-to-work bill, even though Gov. Mitch Daniels warned against doing so. Bosma had to know Democrats would walk out over the bill, but sometimes people lose perspective in a legislative session. Or maybe a House Republican went to the recent Conservative Political Action Committee conference and heard an Americans for Prosperity staffer insist it’s time to “take the unions out at the knees.”

Even without right-to-work, however, tension had been building at the Statehouse over labor and education issues, including the school reforms that Daniels and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett are championing.

“There’s been an attitude on some of these bills of, ‘It’s our way or the highway,’” Rep. Peggy Welch, another moderate Democrat, told the Bloomington Herald-Times last week Continue reading