Republicans seized the political winds and raised the minimum wage

May 28, 2014

My guess is that Dave Woodward and his fellow Democrats are a mix of frustrated, defiant, and happy today, in about that order.

Here’s why.

We’re talking about the minimum-wage deal, in which both houses of the Legislature and the governor yesterday enacted and signed a minimum-wage bill with what, in political terms, was the speed of light.

Yes, the same gang that hasn’t been able to get any new road funding in three years passed a minimum-wage bill in less than a day.

Woodward, a former chair of the Oakland County Democrats, has spent the last few months knocking himself out as head of Raise Michigan, the group collecting signatures to get a minimum-wage hike on the ballot.

They almost certainly have enough to qualify.

Raise Michigan’s petition would boost the minimum wage to an eventual $10.10 an hour. That’s 85 cents more than what the Legislature passed, but the real difference has to do with tipped workers, like restaurant servers.

The ballot proposal would have raised the minimum wage for workers who depend on tips to $10.10 also, up from the current less than $3 an hour.

Restaurant owners really didn’t want that.

The bill just passed gives servers a small raise, but still keeps them well under $4 an hour.

Make no mistake about this: Republicans would not have raised the minimum a penny if it hadn't been for Raise Michigan scaring their pants and skirts off.

Raise Michigan’s bill may still be on the ballot, but Republicans believe their drive was made null and void by what lawmakers did. The Legislature didn’t just raise the minimum, they revoked the old law and replaced it with a new one.

They argue that this makes the petition drive meaningless. Woodward is vowing to challenge this, but since Republicans control the state supreme court, the odds would seem long.

Yet however this turns out, Democrats already have won a major victory.

Make no mistake about this: Republicans would not have raised the minimum a penny if it hadn’t been for Raise Michigan scaring their pants and skirts off.

They did not want to raise it at all.

The Chamber of Commerce didn’t want them to raise it, but they all saw the polls saying that a big majority of the voters want the minimum wage boosted. They were ready to support the Raise Michigan bill.

Perhaps minds could have been changed by a massive ad campaign funded by groups like Americans for Prosperity, but that wasn’t certain.

And Republicans feared a horde of people showing up for minimum wage who don’t usually vote. People who would come out for the ballot proposal and, while they were at it, vote for Democratic candidates.

Now, the GOP hopes turnout will stay low. We’ll simply have to see if the Raise Michigan folks can manage to bring out voters anyway.  

For Democrats like Mark Schauer, the candidate for governor, yesterday was a political setback and a policy triumph.

He tried to point out – correctly – that Republicans had essentially enacted his minimum-wage proposal. They, however, may get some of the credit and most of the political benefit.

More than half a century ago, a famous Democrat was asked about a somewhat similar situation. President John F. Kennedy’s answer was as true now as then. He said, simply, “Life is unfair.”