Must be so; Lesley Stedman Weidenbenner has done two columns in the past three weeks about how the Indiana House Democrats have learned to love being in the minority.
Two weeks ago, we were told about how Pat Bauer loves being the underdog:
Just a couple of weeks before the start of the 2011 session of the General Assembly, I talked to Democratic leader Pat Bauer — the South Bend Democrat who had been speaker until the November election — and found him almost jolly.
You'd think given his new position as minority leader, he might be a little down.
But there's something about being in the minority that Bauer seems to relish a bit, especially after several years with the exhausting job of trying to hold together a diverse and often fractious caucus so Democrats could act as a majority.
For a change, I think Bauer will like the political challenge he's facing — trying to matter, even just be heard, in a chamber controlled 60-40 by Republicans. It's something he's pretty good at.
You could see that on Wednesday, shortly after the House convened the 2011 session, when Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, handed down a list of bills to be introduced.
This is a routine part of the legislative process. I'm starting my 16th regular session and I can tell you that in all those years, bills have been introduced in the House in mass as part of a big list that gets sent across the clerk's desk and, voila, bills are assigned to committees.
But Bauer's Democrats found a wrinkle. In the rules is a section that allows members to object to the introduction of a bill and essentially requires a vote on that objection. So on Wednesday, that's just what Democrats tried to do in an attempt to block two so-called right-to-work bills, which would allow any employee to opt out of the dues and the union that represents them.
I'm not even going to try to get into all the maneuvering that went on Wednesday as Democrats tested this rule and Republicans tried to block their efforts. I don't think I'd get it all right, and I think you'd get pretty bored.
However, I can assure you that it was frustrating for Republicans, caused hours of arguing over something that normally takes minutes, and let Democrats get in their first big digs about legislation they dislike but fear they will be unable to stop.
Ultimately, Republicans were successful introducing the bills. The GOP members — including 19 freshmen — backed up their speaker on the rules challenges and got quite a lesson in the partisan bickering that gives the Indiana House so much personality.
But it was a sign that these Democrats — however weakened they may be after an election in which they got pummeled — aren't going away quietly.
Bauer has lots of fight in him, as do many of the Democratic members still angry about their new minority position. Plus, they spent years trying to fight back GOP attempts to assert the so-called rights of the minority.
It was seven years ago when Democrats controlled the chamber and Republicans pulled an arcane rule out of the books to try to use what was then called a “blast motion” to force a vote on a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
Bauer called the motion an “act of war” and refused to even recognize lawmakers to offer the motion. So for days, Republicans denied the quorum necessary to conduct business in the House.
Their boycott killed dozens of bills, and they never were successful with their blast motion. Eventually, the session moved on.
I mention the story only as a reminder that the minority caucus — at least any healthy minority caucus — will always test the majority, will always be looking for ways to matter, to get their voices heard.
It's often seen as bickering or partisanship and it can be frustrating, whether you're participating in the process or just watching. But it's not new and it's not going away and it will certainly be a part of this session.
Knowing that, it could be interesting to see how Bauer does flexing his minority muscle and fun to watch how Bosma's fairly green majority handles the fight.
An alternative title to this column could have been, "Dr. Strangehair: How Pat Bauer Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Being Irrelevant."
Pat Bauer knows the House rules, and he's surrounded by a staff that has successfully used those rules to govern the Indiana House with an iron fist for years. And there are things that the minority, even a minority like Bauer's, can do to gum up the works for the majority.
But the Indiana House is not the United States Senate and Pat Bauer is no Mitch McConnell. Bauer's forty votes will be far less effective in stopping a Republican agenda for Indiana than McConnell's forty votes were in stopping the Democratic agenda for America.
There are limits to what Bauer can do, not least because many items on the Republican agenda are things that some members of his caucus support.
And, of course, now we're told this week about how the Democrats are putting forward all sorts of votes that they hope to be able to use to attack Republicans in the 2012 election, presumably to help them regain the majority.
Not that, you know, the House Republicans might also just happen to be clever enough to force Democrats to make similar votes.
The 2011 session of the Indiana General Assembly has started quickly, and there's been no doubt that Republicans are in charge.
With their new control of the House and extended majority in the Senate, the GOP is pushing big changes in unemployment benefits, in teachers' collective bargaining rights and in an expansion of so-called charter schools, which are free from many state regulations.
Democrats, meanwhile, are frustrated — but they are collecting votes they think can help them in the next election.
Take last week's House debate on amendments to legislation meant to fix the state's bankrupt unemployment system. The bill forces businesses to pay more into the system and cuts benefits for future out-of-work Hoosiers.
Democrats worked to eliminate those benefit cuts, offering a series of amendments that would have helped out-of-work Hoosiers but harmed the overall goal of making the system solvent by 2013 and paying back more than $2 billion in loans by 2020.
Republicans rejected those proposed changes easily. With a 60-40 majority in the chamber, they are confident of passing the bill as they desire it.
But the Democrats' amendments were about more than just trying to change the bill. They were looking forward to the next election as well.
Democrats offered amendments aimed at helping specific groups of people — such as construction workers or employees who believe they'll use family leave. Every time Republicans voted no — regardless of their reasons — the vote got recorded on roll calls that can be used against them in the future by Democrats and the groups that support them.
It didn't take long.
A day after the unemployment debate, I received a news release criticizing the votes of new Republican Rep. Steve Davisson of Salem. It came from Kristin Self, the finance director for the Indiana House Democratic campaign committee, although it did not identify the caucus as the sponsor of the e-mail.
“Rep. Davisson voted no on over a dozen amendments presented by House Democrats,” the release said. “Every no vote was another blow to families, workers, and small businesses and may force Indiana into a ‘double dip' recession.”
It's a sign that — only a few months after the November election — Democrats already are planning to try to win back House District 73, which had been represented by Democrats for years before Davisson won last year.
And it shows they're already gathering votes to mount that fight.
Republicans, of course, could have the weapon of accomplishments. They should be able to tout fixing the unemployment system and whatever other achievements they have.
More importantly, though, Republicans will get to redraw district maps this year, a once-in-a-decade process that happens after the decennial census, which took place last year.
That means Davisson's District 73 probably won't look like it does now. In fact, many of the districts are likely to change, often in a way that helps Republicans. That's something Democrats could struggle to overcome, no matter how many votes they collect.
Ultimately, Weidenbenner is correct; redistricting is going to have a far greater say over the outcome of the 2012 election than any procedural vote minority Democrats "force" upon Republican freshmen that they hope to be vulnerable in the next election.
It's good that Pat Bauer and the Democrats love being in the minority so much; they're apt to be there for a very long time.