Pro-Worker Republicans Flipping the Script in Indiana

In Indiana, a group of pro-worker, moderate Republicans is recruiting candidates to run in primaries against several of the state legislators who helped ram through a “right to work” law earlier this year.

They call themselves the “Lunchpail Republicans.” From their website, it appears that their goal is to oust House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis), one of the biggest pushers of right to work, from his leadership position. Eight candidates have already been recruited to run in May’s primaries.

Workers’ rights wasn’t always a partisan issue. Even the lionized President Ronald Reagan was a supporter of collective bargaining rights, and over the years there have indeed been state and federal GOP elected officials who have carried on that tradition.

But lately, because of the growing, pervasive influence of ALEC, the Koch Brothers, Wall Street, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and other radical anti-worker groups on the Republican Party (and as protecting the ultra-wealthy has increasingly become the GOP’s singular goal), collective bargaining and having a voice on the job have been transformed – at least in the eyes of the media and the broader public – into partisan issues.

The state house fights since 2010, we’ve seen instances of Republicans standing up to their leadership over workers’ rights issues. Some, like Wisconsin’s Sen. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center), have been successful; with a reduced Republican majority in the Wisconsin Senate, Schultz now carries more clout than ever, as well as the distinction of being the only Republican to vote against Gov. Walker’s union-busting bill.

Others have fallen victim to political retaliation. In New Hampshire, a state with a long-standing tradition of moderate Republicanism, former union member Rep. Lee Quandt (R-Exeter) was removed from his leadership position after speaking out against his party’s anti-worker agenda. House Speaker William O’Brien used every tactic imaginable to whip Republicans into passing a “right to work” bill, yet failed consistently.

Part of the reason that the repeal of the union-busting Senate Bill 5 in Ohio was so successful was that it was not a partisan issue. The repeal campaign reached out consistently to those describing themselves as “conservatives,” and had the support of Republicans like the outspoken Sens. Bill Seitz and Tim Grendell, former U.S. Senator George Voinovich, and even right-wing radio host Bill Cunningham. The “Republicans Voting No On Issue 2” Facebook page has 3,500 members. In the end, more people voted No on Issue 2 to repeal Senate Bill 5 – in an off-year election – than voted to elect current Governor John Kasich in 2010.

What’s different about Indiana is that this is the first time that a moderate, pro-worker faction has broken off and formed a PAC with the expressed purpose of waging an intra-party fight over collective bargaining and workers’ rights.

In Indiana, five GOP Representatives and nine GOP Senators voted against right to work. 82 Republicans voted for its passage. While the pro-worker contingent is small, they are bold, and vocal. As the Chair of the Lunchpail Republicans David Fagan bluntly told Rachel Maddow, “If you can’t defeat right to work, we will defeat those elected officials who voted for it.”

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