Senate Nominee Argues Low Minimum Wage Is ‘Appropriate for Iowa’

Iowa Senate nominee Joni Ernst (R) CREDIT: AP PHOTO/CHARLIE NEIBERGALL
Iowa Senate nominee Joni Ernst (R) CREDIT: AP PHOTO/CHARLIE NEIBERGALL

Iowa Senate nominee Rep. Bruce Braley (D) released a new campaign ad on Tuesday highlighting his Republican opponent’s opposition to increasing the minimum wage. To defend itself, state Senator Joni Ernst’s (R) campaign claimed Iowans are best off with their state’s paltry $7.25-an-hour minimum.

The Braley ad features part of a June Iowa Public Radio interview in which Ernst was asked if she — like 65 percent of her fellow Iowans — supported an increase in the minimum wage. Ernst responded in the negative, explaining, “I do not support a federal minimum wage. Every state has a different economy, different cost of living. I don’t believe that’s the role of the federal government.” It also includes video of a March candidate forum at which Ernst argued that the current minimum wage of $7.25 is “appropriate for Iowa.”

A spokeswoman for Ernst told reporters that the ad was part of a “dirty, false campaign,” claiming that since Ernst “grew up working minimum-wage jobs,” she “knows first-hand how important the minimum wage is.” “While Bruce Braley thinks Washington always knows best,” she argued, “Joni understands that a minimum wage set by Iowans, for Iowans, is the best way to help working Iowans.”

But stagnant wages have not helped Iowans. The current $7.25 minimum wage — the national wage floor since 2009 — would mean that a 40-hour-a-week employee would only earn about $15,000 annually. Progress Iowa has estimated that more than 300,000 Iowans would receive a pay raise if the minimum were raised to $10.10, as Braley has proposed. That amounts to about 10 percent of the state’s population.

Neighboring Missouri and Illinois have higher wages than the national minimum. But having a national minimum wage prevents a “race to the bottom” where businesses locate jobs in states where they can get away with paying workers the least possible amounts.

This is not the first time Ernst has argued for an anti-federalist “states rights” approach. At a September candidate forum, posted online on Monday by The Daily Beast, Ernst suggested a radical “tenther” view of the U.S. Constitution that allows state legislatures to nullify federal laws that they don’t like. She told the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition, “As [a] U.S. Senator why should we be passing laws that the states are considering nullifying? Bottom line: our legislators at the federal level should not be passing those laws.” These nullification claims were popular among southern activists in the 1800s and segregationists in the 1960s.