Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) debated challenger Mary Burke (D) on Friday, and the issue of the minimum wage offered the candidates a chance to highlight their differences. The question posed summarized the situation nicely: can a full-time worker live on $7.25 an hour? And does the state have a responsibility to even set a minimum wage?
Burke "strongly" endorsed a higher legal minimum, but the Republican incumbent largely dodged the question, though he seemed to express opposition to the law itself. "I want jobs that pay two or three times the minimum wage," Walker said, adding, "The way that you do that is not by an arbitrary level of a state."
Daniel Bice at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel followed up on that point in an interview with the governor today, asking Walker whether he believes the law should exist. The governor replied:
"Well, I'm not going to repeal it but I don't think it's, I don't think it serves a purpose. Because we're debating then about what the lowest levels are at. I want people to make, like I said the other night, two or three times that."
It's a striking thing for a governor to say during a tough re-election campaign, especially given his economic record -- Walker promised Wisconsin voters four years ago that he'd create 250,000 jobs in his first term, and he's struggling to get to Election Day with roughly half that total.
Indeed, if the governor doesn't think the minimum wage "serves a purpose," it's not too late for Walker to ask someone to explain the law's rationale.
Establishing a minimum wage is not about creating a target income for an entire population -- it's about creating a floor so that full-time workers don't have to live in poverty.
Walker's comments are rather bewildering. When Democrats created the federal minimum wage -- after Henry Ford helped prove its value -- the point wasn't to "debate what the lowest levels" would be for most people, but rather, the law was created as a protection against abuse. Its existence did not prevent U.S. workers from creating the world's most dynamic middle class.
How an incumbent governor of a Midwestern state can still find this confusing is a bit of a mystery.
For that matter, we can look around the country and see plenty of states doing quite well after raising their minimum wage, which makes sense -- when more workers have more money in their pockets, they'll spend more, which creates more economic activity and more jobs.
It's one of the reasons a higher minimum wage is so popular with so much of the country.
It's heartening, I guess, that Scott Walker isn't pushing for the repeal of the wage law, but the fact that he doesn't see its "purpose" seems like the sort of thing Wisconsin voters will be hearing again in the campaign's final three weeks.