Maybe it’s time for Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels to fire up his motorcycle and head west.

Urbana would be a quick day trip from Indianapolis — an easy, two-hour, 120-mile jaunt on Interstate 74. The temperatures should be in the low 50s. There’s a Harley Davidson dealership on North Lincoln Avenue. The Abraham Lincoln statue in Carle Park is striking.

And, as most Hoosiers know, the Democrat members of the Indiana House of Representatives have taken up temporary residency in the Urbana Comfort Suites hotel. The minority party walked out of the Statehouse on Feb. 21 in a tactical protest to deny the quorum necessary to conduct House business. They left Indianapolis en masse for Illinois, initially, to avoid having Daniels send the Indiana State Police to retrieve them. The governor said he would not do such a thing, but the Democrats remain across the border.

Their reason, upon departure, was the Republicans’ “right-to-work” bill, which would have prohibited companies and employees from entering into a contract that compels union membership and dues paying. When House Republicans agreed to pull that volatile proposal, the Democrats made it apparent that their objections extended beyond the “right-to-work” bill. They’ve used the walkout to stall a GOP agenda of dramatic changes in education and labor practices.

In the vacuum left by legislative inactivity, Hoosiers have gotten a closer look at bills related to state-subsidized vouchers for private schools, the expansion of charter schools, limiting collective bargaining by teachers, and merit pay for teachers, among others. Also, teachers and unions have protested daily while the lawmaking process stays unplugged.

Though House speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and minority leader Pat Bauer, D-South Bend, have talked occasionally, the impasse hasn’t ended. Both sides refuse to blink.

The governor has made statements, sometimes conciliatory, more often critical of the Democrats. His frustration isn’t surprising, given his commitment to his education reform plan, which the Republicans in the General Assembly have carried into the 2011 session. While other Republican bills on social issues — which Daniels urged them to avoid — have sparked debate (such as the labor legislation), the education bills are a primary sticking point.

There would be significant political risk for Daniels if he traveled to Urbana to talk with the displaced Democrats. Such a move could threaten, or strengthen, Daniels’ potential for a 2012 presidential run.

Still, he is the chief executive of the Indiana government, and much of the education reform legislation stems from his comprehensive plan. In January, President Obama, a Democrat, attended a retreat by the U.S. House Republicans in Baltimore. In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan often had lunch with his key Washington rival, House Speaker Tip O’Neill, a Democrat.

The governor wouldn’t have to acquiesce to the Indiana House Democrats. Likewise, the Democrats — who may feel empowered by the protests that have unfolded since they left Indy — need not abandon their principles. But the governor might be the only public official capable of pulling the two sides toward common ground. A face-to-face talk in Urbana, between the governor and the Democrats, is worth a try.
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