The 2014 legislative session is coming to an end. The House passed a lot of bills that met obstruction in the Senate. A number of NH Senators have announced that they won’t be running for reelection. With luck, a few more will reach that same decision.
Last week’s Senate vote on the creation of and increase to the state minimum wage is an example of why the Senate needs the application of a big broom. During the O’Brien years, the state minimum wage was struck down, leaving NH to march in lockstep with the federal minimum wage. Even the ability to set our own minimum was too frighteningly permissive for the O’Brien crowd. (Ironic when one considers that the gummint haters turned over the NH option to the federal gummint.) The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. If a minimum wage worker worked 40 hours a week, they’d earn $290 before taxes. The cheapest apartment advertised in the local classifieds was $600 a month, without utilities. Even if they could pay the rent, they’d be unable to afford utilities, food, transportation, clothing, and health care.
Most employers that pay minimum wage don’t offer full time jobs, because then they’d have to offer benefits. These same companies (big box stores in particular) also provide fluctuating hours, so a worker never has a regular schedule they can count on. That makes juggling other jobs difficult at best. When companies don’t pay workers enough to live on, the rest of us help subsidize their company profits, by picking up the tab for public assistance programs.
Legislators and business owners love to pretend that the minimum wage is a sort of training wage for teenagers entering the job market. In NH, 72% of minimum wage workers are over the age of 20. They’re breadwinners. In our brave new economy, where we manufacture nothing, the bulk of the jobs being created are low wage service jobs. Adults with families to support are competing with teens for low wage jobs.
The NH Senate voted to kill the establishment of a state minimum wage, and a two-step increase that would result in a state min. wage of $9 an hour by 2016. Senator John Reagan was quoted in the Laconia Citizen as saying he “thinks it’s silly to say someone couldn’t be supported on minimum wage, as they can take on multiple jobs.” Our local Senator, multimillionaire Jeb Bradley said that raising the minimum wage would harm teenagers and entry-level workers. It sure would suck for entry level workers to be able to afford food and shelter. Senator Andy Sanborn, who owns a bar/restaurant, drove up in his Mercedes to claim that an increase in minimum wage would hurt restaurants. Sanborn should have declared conflict of interest and abstained from voting. He pays some of his employees minimum wage. Former Senate President Peter Bragdon (who just signed a contract for a job paying $185,000 a year) called the bill “feel good” legislation. He’s right. It would feel good for workers to be slightly more able to feed their children and put a roof over their heads.
A couple of Senators took the minimum wage challenge, where they lived for a week on the minimum wage. Senator David Watters said that it quickly became clear that on that wage he wouldn’t be able to continue to live in Dover without food and housing assistance. Senator David Pierce said that the challenge produced such anxiety for him that he was shaken by the experience.
The cost of higher education has skyrocketed. The kinds of jobs being created offer low wages and no possibility of advancement. The creation and perpetuation of a permanent, poor underclass in our country will have dire consequences.
In other news, Scott Brown was in North Conway last week. Many of our local politicians were on hand to meet, greet, endorse, and toady up to the recent émigré who wants to be NH’s next US Senator. From Lloyd Jones’ excellent news story, we learned that even though Scott Brown moved to NH in February some of our local state representatives and wannabes think Scott’s the guy who represents NH values.
Let us be clear about what kind of value our GOP friends see in Scott Brown. It’s green and has a funny pyramid on it. This senate election is reportedly going to be one of the most expensive in our nation’s history. Thanks to the Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions by the Supreme Court, the amount of money shoveled into our state will be breathtaking. Our local solons understand that of all the candidates running against Senator Shaheen, the one who is going to have the big bucks behind him is Brown. Politicians are pragmatic folk, and they’re going to get behind the money candidate, and wait for the trickle down effect. The state GOP is desperate for cash. Mr. Brown is the cow they’re pinning their hopes on.
The Supreme Court has ruled yet again that money is speech. No longer do we have “free” speech, thanks to SCOTUS the kind of speech we have is very expensive. Those who give the most get the loudest speech. With no limits and no accountability. It’s called dark money, because there is no transparency. We the voters won’t know where all this money to manipulate us comes from. The only one who will know is the candidate. Big money comes with marching orders. We are about to be bombarded with negative ads, the likes of which we’ve never seen before.
Negative ads work in two ways and both are intentional. They discourage people from voting and they plant lies that become truths. When Scott Brown was here last week, he repeated one of them. The Koch funded group Americans for Prosperity NH has been pushing a particular message for months: “Jeanne Shaheen Cast the Deciding Vote for Obamacare.” Scott Brown repeated that, and embellished it, by saying he was there and he saw her do it.
In Louisiana, Americans for Prosperity’s ads inform voters “Mary Landrieu Cast the Deciding Vote for Obamacare.” In Florida, Bill Nelson cast that vote. In Arkansas it was Mark Pryor. In Ohio, “Sherrod Brown Cast the Deciding Vote for Obamacare.” In Minnesota it was Al Franken. And in Virginia, Mark Warner “Cast the Tie-Breaking Vote for Obamacare.”
So, when Scott Brown says he was there and he saw her do it, he’s counting on the fact that a lie repeated often enough becomes the truth. It’s both craven and cynical - and that’s what life is going to look like in NH from now till November.
© sbruce 2014
Published in the May 16, 2014 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper.