— The circumstances that launch them are always new, but boycotts that bring the legislative activity of the Indiana General Assembly to a screeching halt are deeply ingrained in the institution's history. 

Indiana lawmakers have used boycotts to prevent the constitutionally mandated two-thirds quorum from forming in either the House or the Senate almost since the state's constitution was adopted in 1851. 

But the last time members of a political party left the state to keep police from forcing them back to work — as Indiana House Democrats who are holed up in an Illinois hotel have now — was in 1925. 

The episode is recounted in Justin E. Walsh's "The Centennial History of the Indiana General Assembly," published in 1987. 

In 1925, majority Senate Republicans wanted to redraw Indiana's congressional districts so Sen. William K. Penrod of Loogootee, a Republican newspaper publisher, would win the 2nd District seat.

Sen. Joseph M. Cravens, D-Madison, resolved to stop him. 

On Feb. 25, 1925, 13 Democrats left Claypool Hotel in Indianapolis on a bus bound for Dayton, Ohio. A 14th Democrat, Harvey Harmon of Gibson County, later showed up cold and wet after hitchhiking in the passenger's seat of a moving van. 

"For the next two days," the book says, "U.S. 40 between Indianapolis and Dayton was jammed with process servers and Republican politicos trying to coax, cajole, or coerce the fugitives back to their seats in the Indiana Senate. If they did not return, the Republican program for the session was dead." 

Senate leaders sought to send the state militia after the missing Democrats. A Marion County grand jury threatened to indict them. Republicans draped the seats of the Democrats in black crepe. 

And Indiana even discussed a deal with Ohio to exchange five Ohio Republican bolters for Indiana's Senate Democrats. Ohio's lieutenant governor sent a telegram saying: "Ratio is agreeable but afraid we have no suitable shipping crates." 

It ultimately was Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson — famous for claiming "I am the law in Indiana" — to bring the dispute to an end. He went to Dayton and promised that Penrod's effort would be dropped and none of the Democrats would go to jail. 

Early in the morning on Feb. 27, 1925, the Senate Democrats arrived by bus back at Claypool Hotel, singing, "When the Roll Is Called Up There, I'll Be There." Stephenson's word was kept, and Penrod's bill died on the last day of that year's session. 

Here's a look at other boycotts in recent decades: 

  • 2005: Democrats killed about 130 bills, including a voter identification measure that later became law, by staging a one-day walkout. Gov. Mitch Daniels said they had "car-bombed" his legislative agenda. 
  • 2004: Republicans boycotted for a week because Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, then speaker and now minority leader, blocked a constitutional gay marriage ban from a vote. His counterpart, current speaker and former Minority Leader Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, declared it the most important issue facing Hoosiers. 
  • 2001: Republicans blocked action for two days because they were unhappy with the legislative districts that majority Democrats had drawn. 
  • 1995: Democrats boycotted for two weeks, blocking a Republican attempt to drop the number of House seats from 100 to 99 so that there would never be a tie. 
  • 1991: Senate Democrats delayed action for days because they were unhappy about how redistricting would affect a seat that was ultimately captured by Republican Sen. Luke Kenley of Noblesville, today one of the chamber's most powerful members.
  • © 2020 courierpress.com, All rights reserved.