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Sunday August 25, 2019
Posted: Feb 12, 2015

Could minimum wage debate affect 2016 race in 2nd District?

Up Country

Watchers of Maine’s 2nd Congressional District may want to monitor the Bangor City Council’s debate over raising the Queen City’s minimum wage.

One Democratic councilor, Joe Baldacci, is leading the charge to raise it, while another, Ben Sprague, has staked out a more moderate stance on it. Both have said publicly that they’re mulling 2016 primary bids for the seat won in November by U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican.

A Baldacci proposal from earlier this month would raise Bangor’s minimum wage from the state-set $7.50 per hour to $9.75 by 2018. In a Bangor Daily News op-ed, the lawyer and brother of former Gov. John Baldacci said, “Having a real and substantial conversation about raising the minimum wage is part of a necessary discussion we need to have about raising people’s incomes in general.”

In his piece, Baldacci referenced a 2nd District-specific study from Oxfam, an anti-poverty group, that said 23 percent of workers in the district would benefit from an increase in the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10. However, many councilors have questioned the proposal and it could be a tough sell.

Enter Sprague, the financial adviser and former independent, who said on his public Facebook page that while he supports a federal or state wage increase, a city-specific increase could be inconvenient for Bangor businesses.

He said the city could start by raising the minimum wage to $9.75 for 183 Bangor employees who make less than that. He also said Bangor should wait to increase the city-wide minimum wage until all bordering towns also pass increases. (That would make it unlikely to happen anytime soon: For example, Hermon, west of Bangor, is one of Maine’s most conservative towns.)

Democrat Emily Cain talked often about raising the minimum wage in her unsuccessful campaign against Poliquin in 2014. Washington Democrats have implored her to run again virtually since Election Day, and there’s little doubt that she’d discuss the issue again if she runs. Poliquin dodged questions on the minimum wage in campaign debates, but he has argued forcefully against state wage increases before.

But if Baldacci and Sprague decide to run for Poliquin’s seat, the city debate could have an effect on the Democratic primary electorate, for whom a small divide between candidates can look wide.

 

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