State Dems continue push for higher minimum wage

Northeast Wisconsin Democrats hold a news conference on raising the state's minimum wage Sept. 2, 2014. (WLUK/Andrew LaCombe)

BELLEVUE - With Election Day nine weeks away, some area Democrats once again voiced support Tuesday for raising the state's minimum wage.

President Obama talked about increasing the federal minimum wage Monday in Milwaukee, and a recent poll showed a majority of Wisconsin voters support a raise. However, many Republican leaders oppose an increase.

This past winter, state Democrats introduced legislation to gradually raise Wisconsin's minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10. The bill went nowhere in Madison, but some Democrats continue to push the issue as November's elections draw closer.

Standing in front of Costco in Bellevue, Northeast Wisconsin Democrats said a higher minimum wage would benefit the Wisconsin economy. State Rep. Eric Genrich, D-Green Bay, said the national retailer's starting hourly pay is $11.50.

“So they’ve demonstrated that increasing the wages of all employees is good for their business model and good for the economy as a whole," said Genrich.

Republican Eric Wimberger of Green Bay, one of Genrich's opponents in November, said he doesn't think the government should force businesses to increase wages.

“I would oppose it because I don’t think that’s a smart way to go about getting people more money in their pocket," said Wimberger.

Meanwhile, David Helpap, a political science professor at UW-Green Bay, expects the issue to play on a larger scale. After President Obama's Labor Day speech, Helpap said the minimum wage debate will get more attention in the govenor's race.

“I think the candidates have to respond to that and most definitely re-iterate their stances and perhaps even expand on it as a campaign issue," said Helpap.

Gov. Scott Walker opposes an increase, while his Democratic opponent Mary Burke supports a raise.

Wisconsin voters were asked about the issue during the most recent Marquette University Law School Poll. Fifty-seven percent said they support increasing the minimum wage, while 36 percent said they oppose an increase. That same poll showed the race between Burke and Walker remains statstically tied.

Helpap said the minimum wage issue may not sway a voter’s opinion from one candidate to the other. However, he said candidates could use the issue to increase voter turnout.

“I think this is the type of issue that most definitely can be utilized to mobilize your base," Helpap said.

While voter turnout could swing the governor's race, it will be a major factor in local races as well.

Efforts in the U.S. Congress to raise the federal minimum wage have also stalled. Candidates running for Wisconsin's 6th Congressional District seat are on both sides of the issue.

Democrat Mark Harris said he supports raising the federal minimum wage. Harris is currently the Winnebago Co. Executive.

Meanwhile, Republican Glenn Grothman opposes an increase. Grothman is a state Senator from Campbellsport.

For some voters, the minimum wage issue will be on the ballot in another way.

Appleton, Neenah and Menasha are among several municipalities that will have an advisory referendum on minimum wage. While the referendum won't affect policy, it does give voters another chance to voice their opinions on the issue.