Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Democratic Majority Moves Enrage City-County Council Republicans

The City-County Council Democrats got the attention of the Republicans (and one Democrat) last week by shuffling some committee assignments and shaking up things a bit.

Abdul-Hakim Shabazz was the first that I saw to report the changes on Indy Politics, and the Indy Star penned a Sunday article that briefly described what happened.

Among the changes, Democrat Brian Mahern, the former Vice President of the City-County Council, was taken off the Rules and Public Policy Committee. Republican Marilyn Pfisterer was removed from the Public Safety Committee and was replaced with fellow Republican Christine Scales. Democrats also refused to appoint former Democrat Jose Evans to the Metropolitan Development and Economic Committee as had been recommended by City-County Council Republican leader, Mike McQuillen.

Unlike what Abdul insinuates on Indy Politics, no rules were changed by the Democrats.  The changes are fine under the Council’s rules though deference is usually given to the individual parties on who serves on what committee. The Democrats' move enraged the Republicans.

McQuillen was fit to be tied telling the Star, “To tell me who I have to have on committees is ridiculous.”

City-County Council President Maggie Lewis responded to the Star saying, “Obviously, Councillor McQuillen is angry and upset, and I get it. (But) you can’t just expect us to constantly sit back and allow you to attack and attack, and we never respond.”

This seems to be a whole game of inside baseball, but it’s critically important to the Council. Committees determine what proposals make it to the floor of the full Council for a vote. By controlling who sits on the committees, the Democrats have a tremendous advantage.

There definitely is a lot of so-called "inside baseball" at work here.  The question is should the majority caucus get to dictate to the out-of-power party who sits on its committees? I don’t think so. I don't believe it has been the custom of the Indianapolis City-County Council to operate this way.  

The majority party, the Democrats in this case, should be concerned about its own caucus and defer to the minority party on committee appointments.  I believe Democrats would expect this sort of treatment if the shoe was on the other foot.  It's doubtful that they will get this same courtesy if the shoe does somehow change feet in the future.

This was not an extreme circumstance where the Republicans refused to discipline or remove a criminal from his or her committee assignments. Councillor Pfisterer is committed to her constituents and does a strong job for them on the Council (even if I believe she is far too partisan at times).  There was no need to remove her from the committee she was on.  

Scales, who replaced Pfisterer, is anything but far too partisan.  She has become one of the more independent-minded Councillors in the body.  While her own caucus has spurned her, it should be that caucus' right to do so.  After all, Democrats are, in a way, doing the same thing to Mahern.  I think this kind of caucus action is perfectly fine and is, frankly, to be expected.  Each party should stay out of the other party's way on these matters.

While President Lewis has a point when she talks about Democrats not being doormats to Republican tricks and maneuvers, there are other ways to effect change. In my outsiders view, fiddling around with the inner gears of the City-County Council's customs is not the way to do it.

While I disagree with the Democrats on this matter, I honestly find it hard to feel too much sympathy for the Republicans.  They are hardly a powerless minority on this Council.  They have upheld their Mayor's vetoes whenever he has needed them to do so, and this group of Republican Councillors is awfully good at howling and crying bloody murder at the smallest outrage. 

Don't forget that it was the Republicans that tried to ram through redistricting in the last days of the 2011 Council year knowing full and well that the process had to be done legally in 2012. That single decision has cost the taxpayers money and continues to do so.  The Republicans also had no problem undercutting their Democratic colleagues while testifying about Senate Bill 621, the Ballard Power Grab, last Indiana General Assembly Session.  

In politics, no one is guiltless.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Don't forget Democrats changed the amount of committee seats Republicans have early in 2012, too. Their rationale was so committees would better reflect their (at the time) large majority (16-13). This most recent change came after a proposal to change back to the old balance Republicans had given Democrats since Jose Evans made his change.

I expected this type behavior from Vernon Brown but not Maggie Lewis.