Cutler Waffles on the Minumum Wage

AP Photo/Joel Page

Perhaps Eliot Cutler should consider running for the United States Senate instead of the Governorship next year. After all, as he proved on WGAN on Thursday, he’s very good at filibustering.

When asked a simple question by host Ken Altshuler, “What’s your view on raising the minimum wage to 9 dollars an hour?” Cutler launched into a three-minute, 400-word soliloquy indicting both parties for their partisanship and lack of focus.

Finally, host Mike Violette asked “So is that a no on minimum wage raising?”

To which Cutler replied “You know Mike, I honestly don’t know.”

The Press Herald the next day reported that Cutler (like Governor LePage and unlike his potential Democratic gubernatorial rivals) opposes a minimum wage increase, but even in that article Cutler tried to have it both ways. He said he would support an increase if it were part of some undefined package of reforms and that his goal would be to make the wage debate “irrelevant and immaterial.”

I am baffled by Cutler’s tap dancing. You shouldn’t be able to come this far in politics, losing one election for our state’s highest office by only a few thousand votes and now ramping up for another run, without having a real position on something as elemental as the minimum wage.

Either you believe that it’s absurd that the minimum wage hasn’t kept pace with basic necessities even as productivity and corporate profits have increased and you understand the scientific evidence showing that such a policy would have a positive general economic impact (Saturday’s Press Herald editorial on the subject lays out this case well), or you subscribe to a more libertarian viewpoint that government shouldn’t be making these kinds of decisions, that businesses should have the freedom to pay their workers what they want and that the market will sort things out and reward those who are deserving.

Maine’s Governorship is not an imperial office. You don’t get to proclaim your perfect, utopian vision for the state and then make everyone else in government swear fealty to it. A governor uses the power, resources and opportunities he or she has to make incremental steps forward in the direction they think is best. It’s important, therefore, for them to have a guiding philosophy and a real vision for where they want to go. If they have that, taking a position on something as basic as a minimum wage increase should be simple.

If the gubernatorial campaign does end up featuring Cutler and Congressman Mike Michaud competing for the same pool of moderate and left-leaning voters, it will be interesting to see how this kind of issue affects the race. It could help to define a class divide between the two candidates and make that part of the election less about left vs. right and more about the Congressman and former fork-lift driver vs. the millionaire former corporate lawyer.

The Maine House voted 86-58 last week along party lines to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour by 2016 and index it to CPI. The Senate will take up the measure this week. If they pass it, the bill will head to Governor LePage’s desk. If he realizes it’s there, it will almost certainly be vetoed.

Mike Tipping

About Mike Tipping

Mike writes about Maine politics and policy with a focus on analysis and explanation. He works at the Maine People's Alliance and Maine People's Resource Center, writes a political column for the Portland Press Herald