My State Senator just called me a liar.
Senator David Novstrup (R-3/Aberdeen) shared a pleasant lunch with 29 of our neighbors and Secretary of State Shantel Krebs, who came to town to Aberdeen this noon to speak to the Chamber of Commerce Governmental Affairs Committee about voter registration, ballot questions, and other electoral matters. After the show (a good, informative show—stay tuned for video and commentary), Senator Novstrup came up to me, the Democratic candidate running against his dad for his Senate seat, for our first face-to-face conversation. Funny how often that happens: I run into someone I’ve interacted with frequently on the blog, but we realize it’s the first time we’ve actually spoken in the flesh.
Senator Novstrup wanted to talk primarily about Referred Law 20, his youth sub-minimum wage. Senator Novstrup may not like my use of the personal pronoun his; he said he wishes I would spend less time making personal attacks and more time just talking about policy issues.
Senator Novstrup provided some useful exigesis of 2015 Senate Bill 177, the bill he sponsored to reduce the minimum wage for under-18 workers to $7.50 and repeal the annual cost-of-living adjustment to that youth sub-minimum wage. Senator Novstrup said the youth sub-minimum wage was one of three changes discussed at the beginning of the 2015 Session to change the minimum wage increase approved by voters in 2014.
Senator Novstrup said he heard some legislators and lobbyists talking about lowering the new minimum wage for tipped workers. Senator Novstrup said he’s not in the restaurant business (remember, he runs Thunder Road amusement park here in Aberdeen, with no tipped workers), so he didn’t want to bring a bill on that topic.
Senator Novstrup heard other legislators and lobbyists asking to dismantle the annual cost-of-living adjustment. Rep. Jim Bolin (R-16/Canton) brought such a bill (2015 HB 1094), with the co-sponsorship and committee support of Rep. Al Novstrup (R-3/Aberdeen), but that bill failed in the full House.
Senator Novstrup then turned to the youth sub-minimum wage. He found examples of lower minimum wages for young workers in Minnesota and in federal law (the 90-day training wage!). He floated the youth sub-minimum wage idea with Republican and Democratic legislators, and he says none of them initially responded by saying that cutting the minimum wage for young workers would constitute “an affront to voters.” When he turned the idea into SB 177 and moved it through the Legislature, he still didn’t hear legislators complaining that his proposal undermined the will of the voters expressed in Initiated Measure 16. Right up until their votes, Senator Novstrup said, other legislators, even Democrats, were saying they were still weighing the proposal. If SB 177 really were an affront to voters, wouldn’t legislators and others have reacted to it that way sooner? Senator Novstrup thus appears to conclude that his youth sub-minimum wage is not an affront to voters.
I noted that when I circulated petitions to refer SB 177 to a public vote, I met many people whose initial reaction was, “Well, I’ll sign the petition, but what good will it do? The Legislature will just change what we say anyway.” I thought that sounded like a pretty immediate recognition from voters that SB 177 had affronted their expressed will. Senator Novstrup said those reactions could also have been informed by a lot of the media spin.
Senator Novstrup did say that he’s not wedded to the $7.50 set by SB 177/now Referred Law 20. He said he had to have some number. He was pretty sure the training wage of $4.25 an hour was too low: in the current competitive job market, plenty of employers will offer more than that, and employers trying to pay $4.25 would lose staff fast. Senator Novstrup wanted to keep his youth sub-minimum wage above the federal minimum of $7.25. Alluding to the need to compose bills that can win enough votes to pass, Senator Novstrup said he thus settled on $7.50.
So there’s a little perspective on the legislative sausage-making that brought us the final form of the Republican Legislature’s affront to the voters’ will on the minimum wage.
As our conversation progressed, Senator Novstrup argued that I cannot truthfully say that Referred Law 20 is an affront to voters. People might vote Yes on Referred Law 20, to cut the minimum wage for young workers, for many reasons. Supporters of RL 20 might think $8.50 an hour is simply too much for kids. They might think the cost-of-living adjustment is inappropriate for young workers. They might have any number of reasons other than an evil desire to undermine the will of the voters.
I agree. When we take up Referred Law 20, Yes voters will not be committing an affront to voters. Voters cannot affront themselves. We cannot by the exercise of our will undermine our will.
I explained to Senator Novstrup that I do not view the votes we voters are about to cast on Referred Law 20 as affronts to voters. I explained that Senator Novstrup’s sponsorship of and vote for Senate Bill 177 in February 2015 were affronts to voters. In November 2014, voters said, all workers should get at least $8.50 an hour, plus an annual cost-of-living increase. In February 2015, Senator Novstrup said, Not all workers should get at least $8.50 an hour and a cost-of-living increase. Senator Novstrup’s vote and the passage of SB 177 negated a portion of the voter’s will. That negation is an affront, an action that causes outrage or offense, to voters.
Faced with that logic, Senator Novstrup said that’s just my opinion, said he doesn’t care what I think, and called me a “liar.”
Having reached the end of our constructive conversation, I responded that there is a difference between lying and being wrong. I said to Senator Novstrup that I will not call him a liar. I will say that he is very, very wrong about the words, intent, and impact of the law he passed… a law I hope to overturn to protect the ability of voters to express their will by initiative.