A wedge issue for Democrats. And we're using it:
New Year's Day will bring the ninth straight year in which the federal minimum wage has remained frozen at $5.15 an hour, marking the second-longest period that the nation has had a stagnant minimum wage since the standard was established in 1938.Republicans avoid minimum wage votes for a reason. Hopefully this strategy well help get people to the polls that also have the good sense to vote for Democratic congressional candidates.
Against that backdrop, Democrats are preparing ballot initiatives in states across the country to boost turnout of Democratic-leaning voters in 2006. Labor, religious, and community groups have launched efforts to place minimum-wage initiatives on ballots in Ohio, Michigan, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Arkansas, and Montana next fall.
Democrats say the minimum wage could be for them what the gay-marriage referendums were in key states for Republicans last year -- an easily understood issue that galvanizes their supporters to show up on Election Day.
Last year, both minimum wage increases on state ballots won overwhelmingly. Voters in Florida and Nevada -- two states that went narrowly for Bush -- overwhelmingly supported a higher minimum wage, giving ballot measures 71 percent support in Florida and 68 percent in Nevada. (The Nevada initiative must be approved again in 2006 before it can take effect.)
Democrats say they hope to replicate Republicans' success in 2004, when ballot initiatives banning gay marriage passed in all 11 states they were offered. The initiatives were credited with boosting GOP turnout in those states.
The minimum wage can have a similar cross-country resonance, particularly after Hurricane Katrina exposed the dire poverty that exists in parts of the nation, said the Rev. Paul Sherry, the Cleveland-based coordinator of "Let Justice Roll" and a former president of the United Church of Christ. Sherry said his group is considering broadening its efforts to launch state legislative campaigns for a higher minimum wage in states including New Hampshire, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
"It cuts across all kinds of ideological lines," Sherry said. "People on the conservative side of the political sphere, as well as the liberal, see the need for a decent wage for people."