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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Democrats suffered a series of disastrous defeats on election night, decisively losing their Senate majority and falling short in several gubernatorial races in which they hoped to defeat Republican incumbents. But there was one silver lining for liberals: Tuesday’s elections proved, once again, that the minimum wage is a winning issue.

Initiatives to raise the minimum wage appeared on the ballot in four reliably Republican states. In all four, they passed easily.

Even as Alaskans appeared to boot Democratic senator Mark Begich out of office — he has declined to concede the race — they still overwhelmingly voted to raise their state’s minimum wage to $9.75 per hour. Tellingly, although his future colleagues in the Senate have steadfastly opposed any efforts to raise the federal minimum wage, Republican senator-elect Dan Sullivan announced in September that he would support the state initiative. This was a flip-flop from his position in the Republican primaries, and probably had something to do with polls showing the measure’s overwhelming popularity in the Last Frontier.

Similarly, Republican Tom Cotton’s easy victory over Democratic senator Mark Pryor didn’t stop Arkansans from boosting their minimum wage to $8.50 per hour. Like Sullivan, Cotton decided not to oppose the overwhelmingly popular measure. Although he voted against raising the federal minimum wage as a congressman, he announced in September that he would support the state hike “as a citizen.”

In South Dakota, Republican Mike Rounds easily defeated Democrat Rick Weiland and Independent Larry Pressler. But voters still raised their state’s minimum wage to $8.50 per hour. Rounds opposed the measure, while his opponents supported it.

And in Nebraska, Republican Ben Sasse defeated Democrat Dave Domina in a landslide, even as voters raised the state’s minimum wage to $9 per hour. Although Sasse opposed the measure, he avoided discussing the issue on the campaign trail.

More than half of the states in the nation now have minimum wages higher than the federal level.

Clearly, even in red states, there is broad support for one of the key planks of the Democratic economic agenda. But, just as obviously, it was not a determining factor in how midterm voters cast their ballots. This presents an opportunity for congressional Republicans.

The next round of Senate campaigns will take place in a far more liberal battleground than Tuesday’s elections did — and, if history is a guide, they will feature a more liberal electorate. This will put blue-state Republicans like Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Pat Toomey (R-PA) in jeopardy. One easy way for them to blunt the economic attacks sure to come their way on the campaign trail would be joining with Democrats to raise the federal minimum wage.

While the House of Representatives has refused to consider a minimum-wage hike in the past, they may have a different attitude when the bill is coming from a Republican-controlled Senate. After all, they supposedly want to prove that they can govern. And, as Tuesday’s elections prove, conservative voters are unlikely to punish them for giving working families a boost.

Photo: 401(K) 2012 via Flickr

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  • Allan Richardson

    At first glance, it appears that voters hope they can “influence” the officials they elect, after taking office, into passing the minimum wage increases which are overwhelmingly popular AS ISSUES with the same electorate which voted opponents of those issues into office. However, this paradox tells us that voters naively think they will change their minds on the basis of popular opinion. The only states which actually WILL raise their minimum wages are the ones in which the referendum was a SELF-ENACTING question with the force of law, rather than a suggestion to the new legislators.

    While the Democratic party has been, and (as the neutering of the ACA into nothing more than a “good start” demonstrated) is still, composed of flexible politicians who will listen to constituents, the Republican party has degraded, since Reagan, into the “my way or the highway” bunch who will politely smile as you, the citizen, tell them what you want them to do, and then vote (or block a vote on) exactly the way they told you they would — even if it is the opposite of 90 percent of the voters’ wishes. They consider ANY vote for them, in preference to ANY opponent, for ANY combination of reasons, as the carte blanche to do EVERYTHING in their platform, the good, the bad, the ugly, and the “not mentioned while on the campaign trail” super ugly. They even say, in their speeches, that “the American people” feel so-and-so, even when, factually speaking, only 51 percent feel maybe 51 percent so-and-so.

    The majority of Americans have stated, in the past, that they want to drink clean water and breathe clean air, even in “red” states, yet the GOP leaders these same voters elect fight to get rid of ALL pollution control legislation.

    The majority of Americans have stated that while they would rather no abortions were necessary, they trust the woman whose body is (often against her will) involved to make the right choice on the rare occasions when it is necessary, rather than have politicians and church officials coercing her into a single choice. And they have stated in polls that they do NOT want the restriction of abortion, in any event, to be done in a way which closes off access to birth control and cancer screenings for poor and uninsured women by closing clinics which do 3 percent abortions and 97 percent those other things. Yet these same voters appear to vote for politicians who publicly state those positions.

    Over 75 percent of Americans polled, and 60 percent of NRA MEMBERS, believe there should be REASONABLE screening to keep guns out of the hands of mentally unstable people, and make the protection of innocent people from stolen or “found” guns PART OF the responsibility of the “responsible” gun owner. Yet Republican, and many Democratic, political leaders are so terrified of the NRA that they would not allow even the most reasonable, and popular with their own voters, requirements to SHOW responsibility. Indeed, the NRA came out last year against the VOLUNTARY safeguarding of guns by purchasing a recently invented gun from Germany which only fires when the hand holding it is wearing a uniquely coded ring. The NRA opposed ALLOWING gun buyers to CHOOSE to protect innocent people from gun theft, forcing the government not to allow the gun to be imported.

    So why would we think that Republicans elected at the SAME time as a referendum on raising the minimum wage PASSED would honor that vote more than their own “principles” of pure laissez faire markets? In one midwestern state a few years ago, when the legislature passed a law to allow the governor to take over a city and override the elected mayor and city council, the CITIZENS of that state passed an initiative to REPEAL that law in the next election (while, strangely, also re-electing the legislators and governor who passed it). The legislature then RE-ENACTED the same law with a clause saying that it was NOT SUBJECT to repeal by initiative! The legislature, in effect, told the VOTERS to “sit down and shut up” because WE know what’s best for you.

    I hope to be proven wrong, but I expect that the minimum wage referenda which do not automatically become law will be IGNORED by Republicans who lie sweetly and say they will “support” them. And those which DO have the force of law will be quietly REPEALED as soon as the legislatures of those states can get it on the schedule.

    Voters need to understand, and unfortunately too many apparently do not, that when a politician promises to do something everybody LIKES, you cannot trust him/her to do that, ESPECIALLY if he ALSO promises some lunatic fringe of the voters (or a powerful donor base) to do the OPPOSITE, no matter how horrible that may be. If he tells the fetus-worshipers that he supports a “personhood” law or amendment, then tells the general electorate that he has “evolved” on that issue (in the SAME election), rest assured that he WILL attempt to pass the personhood law — and if you get an ectopic pregnancy or a septic miscarriage, write your will quickly, because your doctor will not be allowed to save your life.

    When I see a GOPTP legislator at any level VOTE AGAINST the extreme position he promised his base (60 percent of 30 percent), only THEN will I believe that legislator has really changed his beliefs.

  • Stuart

    Somebody’s gotta help me with this. It seems people love Democratic policies and hate Democrats. How do you do that?

    • Asemodeus

      “How do you do that?”

      Propaganda and fear mongering.

  • Joker Davis

    The liberal mind seems to be mostly detached from reality.

  • Captain Hadley

    In my opinion, there’s no material difference between today’s liberals and the socialists, marxists, and communists of yore.