Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 1, 2013

George Weeks: Wages, Obamacare loom in campaigns

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — Wages are an escalating economic and political issue across the country. Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer, has had worker protests on the issue. Democratic politicians are beating the drums for increases in the minimum wage.

In Michigan, Mark Schauer, the former state representative, Senate Democratic floor leader and congressman from Battle Creek who is the 2014 nominee-in-waiting against Gov. Rick Snyder, last month called for raising Michigan’s minimum wage of $7.40 per hour to $9.25.

“After years without an increase, it’s time to raise Michigan’s minimum wage," he said. "This would jump-start our economy by lifting the incomes of more than 1 million Michigan workers.

“It’s simple economics. When working families have more to spend on everyday necessities like gas, groceries and clothes for their kids, it creates immediate demand in the marketplace. And when demand increases, small businesses grow and hire more workers.”

Compared to some bigger initiatives elsewhere, Schauer’s seems reasonable. In California, a Democrat gubernatorial hopeful called for a $12 minimum wage. President Barack Obama last month embraced a Senate bill to boost the national wage from $7.25 to $10.10.

Also reasonable is Snyder’s position that the issue of a mandatory new wage level needs evaluation before implementation. Snyder spokesman David Murray noted Friday that Michigan is already above the national minimum wage, and that raising it further may have unintended consequences, such as potential job loss.

“Gov. Snyder is focused on improving the business environment to create more and better jobs and raising wages for all Michiganders," Murray said. "That includes improving education so students graduate with college- and career-ready skills, and improving science, technology, engineering and math education so students can enter fields where the demand is the greatest.”

Murray cited several projects for state and public-private partnership efforts that aim to train workers, provide employment opportunities and thus reduce poverty.

That’s all to the good. But on the campaign trail, Schauer could have an edge with low-wage workers to the extent that the issue is highlighted. Meanwhile, polling indicates Schauer needs to hype his name identification. A poll commissioned by the bipartisan public relations firm Lambert, Edwards & Associates and released Nov. 20 by The Detroit News said Snyder’s lead over Schauer “has widened as his likely Democratic challenger struggles to be recognized.”

Snyder led 44.5 percent to Schauer’s 31 percent — which would be impressive later on, but the election is about 11 months from now. Schauer will be well-known by then — favorably or unfavorably.

The poll, conducted by Denno Research, also had Democratic 9th District third-term U.S. Rep. Gary Peters of Oakland County with a 37-36 lead in the open 2014 Senate seat race over Republican former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land of Kent County. Nathan Gonzales of The Rothenberg Political Report wrote of the seat being vacated by Carl Levin, Michigan’s longest-serving senator, “Make no mistake, Peters has shown remarkable political agility, and starts the race with the edge, but this open seat should no longer be considered safe.”

Land consultant John Yob said, “This is a close race between Terri Lynn Land, who provided better services for less money as secretary of state and Congressman Peters, who broke his promise that 225,000 Michiganders wouldn’t lose their health insurance.”

Clearly, Obamacare will be an issue next year in the Senate and congressional races.

George Weeks, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, for 22 years was the political columnist for The Detroit News and previously with UPI as Lansing bureau chief and foreign editor in Washington. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.