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Dems aim to recover from 'disaster' session

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Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — As Republican lawmakers and GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels celebrated huge agenda victories — gathering in the governor’s office over the weekend for a bill signing, handshakes and emotional congratulations — Democrats are trying to move past a legislative session that was devastating to them and their supporters.

House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, called the 2011 session that ended Friday a “complete disaster.” Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, summed it up as “the session from hell.”

The 2010 elections gave Republicans total control of the Statehouse, and they successfully pushed an agenda that includes a corporate tax cut, a bill cutting off funding to Planned Parenthood and education initiatives that critics contend devastate public schools.

“I know the people were wanting change, but I’m not sure that the changes that we have seen during this session were the changes that they wanted,” said Sen. Lindel Hume, D-Princeton. “This has been a difficult time.”

Some Democrats think the best way to approach 2012 elections is to allow the GOP agenda to backfire.

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate contend that the Legislature is moving farther to the right with ultraconservative views becoming more evident, and that voters might want something new next year.

“In the weeks and months ahead, the dirty reality of what has been accomplished through single-party control of this Legislature will begin to dawn on the people of Indiana,” Bauer said.

There’s certainly plenty to talk about as the next elections approach.

Daniels plans to sign a bill into law that will tighten abortion restrictions and make Indiana the first state in the nation to cut off government funding for Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. The proposal upset many who say Planned Parenthood is critical for providing cancer screenings, treatment for sexually transmitted diseases and other non-abortion services.

Efforts to push contentious labor bills stirred outrage this session among union workers who said Republicans are engaging in class warfare. A bill that would prohibit union dues from being a condition of employment sparked a five-week walkout by House Democrats.

And more than 1,000 teachers attended a Statehouse rally this year to protest sweeping education changes, saying a voucher program directing taxpayer money to private schools was an effort to destroy public education.

“The public now knows the difference between the two parties,” Bauer said.

Republicans say they didn’t overreach and didn’t push their agenda for election purposes. But will their proposals affect 2012 elections?

“That’s yet to be seen,” said House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis. “There was a tremendous overreaction to the modest improvements that were proposed.”

Democrats say they’ll have their work cut out for them as they try to gain control of at least one chamber or the governor’s office under new election districts drawn this session by Republicans.

Republicans hold a 60-40 GOP majority under maps drawn by Democrats 10 years ago, and Republicans hold a 37-13 majority in the Senate, which they’ve controlled since the mid-1970s.

“There’s no question it’s tougher,” Bauer said. “But there’s also no question that there’s time, that the public has suddenly woken up and seen that it does make a difference. Elections have consequences, and they’re going to feel the consequences."


Posted 5/2/2011




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