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Democrats, don't hide from democracy

By Michael Wolraich, Special to CNN
  • Michael Wolraich says Dem lawmakers in Wisconsin, Indiana fled to avoid vote on unions
  • He says this tried before in Texas redistricting; they came back, redistricting went ahead
  • Dems approach gives cover to GOP tactics, for example in filibusters in Congress, he says
  • Wolraich: Obstructionism gives short-term gains, then backfires. American people lose

Editor's note: Michael Wolraich is a founder of the political blog and the author of "Blowing Smoke: Why the Right Keeps Serving Up Whack-Job Fantasies about the Plot to Euthanize Grandma, Outlaw Christmas, and Turn Junior into a Raging Homosexual."

(CNN) -- Democratic state legislators have begun fleeing their respective capitals as if the plague has broken out. Perhaps they see it that way. Republicanism has gone viral, and it seems that no state is safe, no matter how unionized.

But this plague is called democracy, and the cure is worse than the disease.

In Wisconsin and now Indiana, Republican-dominated legislatures have proposed laws to reduce the power of the unions. Unable to block the bills, Democratic legislators have skedaddled in a desperate gambit to deny Republicans the minimum quorums required to vote.

The catch-me-if-you-can tactic was pioneered by Texas Democrats in 2003; they fled to Oklahoma and New Mexico in a vain attempt to block Republican efforts to redistrict the state. Republicans asked the FBI to arrest the fugitive Democrats. Hilarity ensued. Eventually, the wayward Democrats returned, and the Republicans concluded their redistricting.

The recent vanishing acts in Wisconsin and Indiana will probably be no more successful. Voters may or may not approve of the anti-union bills, but they elected their legislators to govern, and their anger will grow as the stalemate persists. Realizing this, some of the holdouts will inevitably crack, and so the bills will eventually pass anyway.

Battle for union power
Governor: 'We don't have any more money'
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But political self-interest is not the only reason to quit the obstructionist parliamentary games. Let's suppose that the Democrats are successful in blocking the bills. After weeks or months of glorious deadlock, the Republicans finally blink. The courageous Democrats ride home to ticker tape parades, and they parlay their victory into recapturing their respective legislatures in 2012.

What then is to stop Republicans from running away to block Democratic bills? After all, how could Democrats complain when they employed the same tactic themselves? How well will our state governments function when breaking quorum becomes a common parliamentary strategy?

Sound farfetched? Just look to the proliferation of obstructionist tactics in the U.S. Senate. In the 19th century, there were only 23 Senate filibusters. During President Obama's first two years in office, there were over a hundred.

Although Republicans hold the record, Democrats were hardly shy about filibustering when they were in the minority under President Bush. Each successive Congress has used the behavior of opponents in previous Congresses to justify its tactics.

In short, obstructionism may provide short-term gains to one party or another, but it tends to breed even more obstructionism. Then we all lose.

Personally, I oppose the anti-union bills. I urge every legislator in Wisconsin and Indiana to vote against them, and I support the many protestors and union members who have organized to fight them.

But the Republicans won the elections in Wisconsin and Indiana. If they have the votes to pass the bills, that is their prerogative.

If the Democrats hope to defeat these bills or repeal them in the future, they need to take their case to the voters and win elections in 2012. That's how democracy works.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Michael Wolraich.