Maine minimum wage victory a bright spot for progressives in a dark election

Maine minimum wage victory a bright spot for progressives in a dark election

Even as an unexpected conservative wave lifted Republican Donald Trump to the presidency and swamped down-ballot races across the country, the success of a set of left-leaning ballot measures in Maine offers a glimmer of hope for progressives.

Mainers voted to institute ranked choice voting and narrowly elected to allow legalized marijuana and tax the wealthy to better fund education, but the biggest winner of the night was Question 4, a minimum wage increase, which secured 56% of the vote.

“This victory is important for 181,000 Mainers and their families, many living in deep poverty and barely scraping by. Together, we stood up for the fundamental American promise that if you work hard you should be able to make ends meet,” said Mainers for Fair Wages campaign manager Amy Halsted in a Wednesday email to supporters.

Yes on 4 volunteers in Bangor

Mainers for Fair Wages volunteers in Bangor

The minimum wage in Maine will now gradually increase on a yearly basis from the current $7.50 an hour until it reaches $12 in 2020. The subminimum wage for service workers who receive tips will also increase over the next nine years and future minimum wage increases will be indexed to the cost of living.

The grassroots campaign to raise the wage began almost two years ago, when groups including the Maine People’s Alliance, the AFL-CIO and the Maine Small Business Coalition began planning to gather the 90,000 signatures they would eventually submit to place the measure on the ballot.

More than 7,500 small-dollar contributors helped to fund the effort and campaign staff and volunteers knocked on more than 250,000 doors, holding personal conversations about the importance of raising the wage. More than 90 community organizations and 600 small businesses had publicly endorsed the measure by Election Day.

In addition to winning statewide, Question 4 led by a wide margin even in rural areas won by Trump and other Republicans, garnering 54% of the vote in both Aroostook and Washington counties, Maine’s most northern and eastern, respectively.

“As Mainers and Americans of all backgrounds attempt to find a path forward together in the days ahead, let’s remember what we just proved: there are deeply-held values of fairness and economic justice threaded through our communities that can bind us together in the face of the many things that can drive us apart,” said Halsted. “We must continue to strengthen them.”

Question 4 was vehemently opposed by Maine’s conservative governor, Paul LePage, a Trump ally who campaigned hard against the measure in the weeks before the election. LePage claimed that minimum wage backers should be jailed for “attempted murder,” and promised to leave the state at the conclusion of his term if the referendum passed.

The first changes are scheduled to go into effect January first, with the minimum wage increasing to $9 an hour and the subminimum wage increasing to $5, and Maine workers are already counting on the boost to their finances.

“This means that I will no longer be working for $3.75 an hour and relying solely on the gratuity and generosity of strangers to pay rent, to pay heat,” Ali Monceaux, a restaurant server in Portland, told Maine Public Radio on election night.

Photo: Mainers for Fair Wages staff and volunteers at an election night event in Portland

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