By Lucas O’Connor
On Friday, Kevin Faulconer made his position official and vetoed the City Council’s increase of the city’s minimum wage. We know Faulconer has long been fundamentally opposed to wage protections that strive to keep people out of poverty, likewise the big-money orgs who paid the way for his campaign. So while the move is hardly a surprise, it’s nevertheless bizarre.
The good folks who worked on Faulconer’s mayoral campaign have been remarkably open about their core strategy of manufacturing an image of Faulconer as a moderate in order to win. Since taking office, that approach has generally continued. This stripped-down compromise on minimum wage could have been the last step in that process, and everyone could have gone to happy hour 20 months early. But here we are. Why?
It’s easy to imagine a rational outcome here. Kevin Faulconer is propped up by a number of well-established power brokers on the Right, all of whom are politically savvy enough to understand what a veto-proof majority is and how it functions. They know the result of this part of the story is a given and Faulconer gets no courage points. The council can override, it will become law, and it will begin to take effect before it can appear on the ballot.
Mayor Faulconer could have just signed it. It would have changed nothing, and it would have allowed Faulconer and his good friends at the Lincoln Club to inundate low-income communities with campaign mail touting The Mayor Who Raised The Minimum Wage! And it would even be true. Disingenuous perhaps, but true.
That alone would be more than enough to lock in right now, today, the margins Faulconer needs in those communities to win re-election outright in June 2016. And what would this have cost Kevin and friends? Nothing. The policy impact would be exactly the same, and as a bonus they would have a few extra millions kicking around for other races.
Now he doesn’t get to wrap himself in that mantle. Instead, if the issue is on the ballot, it will be appearing right next to candidate Kevin Faulconer as he runs for re-election. That makes Faulconer the face of a multi-million dollar campaign to take money away from 172,000 of the poorest workers in San Diego to give it to the richest power brokers in town. The same folks who will be writing giant checks for him at the same time.
Faulconer will be stuck as the corporate welfare stooge whose plan for San Diego is to proactively take food from the mouths of hungry children. If, like me, you’re already imagining photoshopping involving Tiny Tim and Grinch, that’ll only be the beginning. Maybe someone adds, say, a child handcuffed to her inhaler in Barrio Logan, and you’ve got quite a narrative for what Mayor Faulconer means to San Diego so far. Not a good look for anybody, especially on a policy supported 2-to-1.
A repeal effort would draw a well-deserved decline-to-sign campaign. It would be well-funded, draw activists into the field, and allow minimum wage supporters to begin organizing two summers before the actual election. It won’t just be in support of the minimum wage, though. They will have nearly two years to define Faulconer as the Prince of Poverty.
A ballot measure would also change the playing field of the June 2016 election. There will be no council races in Districts 4 or 8, District 9 might not be contested, and the Democratic presidential primary could be long-decided. But cutting pay for those who are struggling the most? Against that backdrop of 2-to-1 support? That’s a great way to widen the playing field for Democrats.
The empty arguments opposing the minimum wage are so devoid of logic that by now it’s almost passé to refute them. Mostly, they amount to a pitch that the only way for poor people to stop being poor is to never make more money. Or conversely, that getting a raise will make you more poor. Some versions also include the notion that creating more local customers is bad for business.
You might naturally imagine that these titans of politics and industry are lining up to turn down their own salaries to get rich quick, but oddly that isn’t so common. Instead, these wealthy power brokers prefer a strategy of, you know, actually accumulating wealth and power. Because in the real world, anyone who thinks about it knows it’s a silly premise.
But when you really dig in, it’s not just silly; it’s deeply insidious. Amid all the pearl-clutching in the name of saving San Diego’s poverty jobs from the scourge of middle classiness, there’s a clear message: While opponents of the minimum wage increase want to save these jobs, it’s only on the condition that those jobs always remain poverty jobs. They demand that the people working these jobs must remain in poverty, and insist that the function of San Diego’s economy requires this permanent underclass. All while they congratulate each other for allowing the hoi polloi to work at all.
And why not? These businesses aren’t the ones who suffer the consequences. Taxpayers subsidize the food, housing, and medical care for those underpaid employees on the backend (when it’s more expensive, natch), and businesses get big checks from taxpayers to make up for any shortfall (real or entitled). Ironically, this is exactly the sort of welfare they claim is supposed to be destroying the fabric of our precious free market, not sustaining it.
All of this could have been avoided. Instead, the promises of Kevin Faulconer are crumbling into exactly what so many were afraid of. Even when it would be in his own political self-interest, Faulconer can’t overcome the pathological need of his monied backers to plunder every possible dime from our city. His true colors are exposed with his first real test of leadership, and while that may be too bad for him it creates a golden opportunity for those seeking progress.