While competing theories and data exist over whether raising the minimum wage creates or destroys jobs, one fact is certain: from a political standpoint, you shouldn’t run for high office without having a clear policy proposal over the issue.
Unfortunately, the recent firestorm over comments made by gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner has exposed muddled thinking by all four Republican candidates on the issue.
Last month, Rauner told a downstate radio station that Illinois’ minimum wage of $8.25 an hour should be repealed to $7.25, the national minimum wage.
After the remark was picked up by a number of media outlets, Rauner came under heavy fire, and all three of his Republican primary opponents jumped on board the scrum.
By the end of Wednesday, the Rauner campaign was in damage-control mode, telling NBC Chicago that he was misunderstood and was actually “comfortable” with a $10 minimum wage.
It was a pretty stunning reversal for a campaign that, until now, had been firing on all cylinders and looking more and more like a front-runner.
Yet, in jumping on what they undoubtedly saw as a political opportunity to batter an opponent, none of the other three Republican candidates -- Kirk Dillard, Bill Brady or Dan Rutherford -- showed any political mettle or real understanding of the issue.
Take State Senator Dillard, for example. In an interview with John Gregory at the Illinois Radio Network, Dillard ran out some standard Republican talking points about the need for "good jobs" and the unproven fact that raising the minimum wage creates fewer jobs overall. Then, in an effort to hedge his bets, he said, in effect, the minimum wage question wasn’t something politicians should concern themselves with:
"I am a, what I guess is known as a Jeffersonian free market principle guy. And I believe that the marketplace ought to set everything, including the minimum wage.”
For the sake of brevity, let’s just agree to accept this simple fact: the minimum wage was created due to the simple fact that the "free" market, if left alone, has failed to provide a basic living wage for it’s most vulnerable workers. That’s why it's existed for decades in the U.S. and around the world.
More importantly, however, by washing his hands of the issue, Dillard missed an opportunity to let many, many voters know what he would do once in office about an issue that directly impacts their lives.
Wednesday, State Treasurer Dan Rutherford released a statement on the issue that, too, seeking desperately to avoid coming down on one side or the other:
“Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford does not support lowering the state’s minimum wage, nor does he support increasing it at this time.”
A few sentences later, Rutherford does say he believes "every American should be able to make as much money as possible, legally and ethically," so he clearly believes in people being paid for work if they have a job.
For his part, State Senator Bill Brady also said he believes in "restoring more of those higher-paying jobs to Illinois, giving more of our families larger paychecks." However, he, too, refused to say where he thought a true minimum wage should be, opting instead to attack his opponents in the governor’s race:
“We have Governor Quinn proposing to raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour, and Bruce Rauner talking about lowering it by $1. They are both out-of-touch with the needs of Illinois families and Illinois business,” Brady said.
Whether he was right or wrong, you have to give Rauner credit. For a brief moment there, he seemed to be planting his stake in the ground, saying that the state’s minimum wage at $8.25 was simply too high.
Such a stance would at least be understood by voters, who are beginning to come to grips with Rauner’s clear message of an wealthy outsider candidate looking to go to Springfield to “shake things up,” in part by attacking unions, turning pension dollars over to Wall Street and raising millions of dollars from fellow wealthy donors.
At least until he was forced to change his mind about the issue.
Rauner's main rival, Democrat Pat Quinn, has said clearly he wants the state to increase the minimum wage by next Christmas.
The other three candidates?
We’ll just have to wait and see how they really feel.