Montgomery County can remain a progressive beacon in the fight against inequality with its passage of a $15 minimum wage -- but County Executive Ike Leggett should sign it, not threaten a veto, to seal his own progressive legacy. PM member Bobby Bartlett explains why it's a critical moment.
/By Bobby Bartlett/ On January 17, the Montgomery County, Maryland council passed a bill that would implement a $15 minimum wage by 2020 or 2022, depending on the size of the business. Passage of this bill is a historic achievement, as it would make Montgomery County the first county-level entity in the nation to empower its workers by approving a $15 per hour minimum wage.
Such an achievement is an important step on Montgomery County’s path to becoming a leading light within the progressive movement. Long considered among the “bluest of the blue,” the D.C. suburban community is taking an increasingly prominent national role as we enter the Trump Era, producing leaders like newly minted Senator Chris Van Hollen, Rep. Jamie Raskin - one of the most promising new progressive champions and a voice for resistance on Capitol Hill, and a leading candidate for DNC Chairperson in Obama Labor Secretary Tom Perez.
But, that progress is in jeopardy. The bill currently sits on the desk of County Executive Ike Leggett, who has given all indications that he plans to veto the minimum wage increase.
For him to do so would be a travesty.
For starters, Montgomery County is the most expensive place to live in the state of Maryland, and one of the most expensive in the entire nation -- a single adult with no children must earn $37,807 to be self-sufficient; for a single parent of two grade-school-age children, that figure jumps to a staggering $74,503. (Source: http://selfsufficiencystandard.org/maryland) So, a $15 per hour minimum wage would go a long way toward helping all full-time workers stand on their own, rather than allowing them to languish in poverty while taxpayers subsidize corporate profit margins through the safety net of assistance programs.
Beyond all the practical and moral reasons why supporting a raise for working families is the right and proper thing to do, there is a political element that Leggett must consider. By signing the bill, he will solidify Montgomery County’s place in the vanguard of the progressive movement and in the resistance against the policies of President Trump and his allies in congress.
Democrats have, of course, taken a rather severe beating lately. This is true at the national level as well as in Leggett’s backyard. At the state level, Maryland elected Republican governor Larry Hogan in 2014, a business-oriented self-styled moderate conservative who was elected in large part due to low Democratic turnout in places like Montgomery County. Locally, although Democrats hold every single legislative position in Montgomery County with a lock on the county council, its Maryland General Assembly delegation, all three congressional districts that traverse the county and both U.S. Senators, their leadership was given a stern rebuke in 2016 as term limits for the county council and executive passed with 70% of the vote in a county where Democrats hold a 3-to-1 voter registration advantage over Republicans.
At the national, state and local levels, the problems that ail the Democratic Party are fundamentally the same -- they are no longer the champion of the “little guy” that they once were, and are viewed as out-of-touch with working people.
So Leggett, who is retiring after his term expires in 2018, has a golden opportunity to right the political ship locally, and put his party back on track to relevance and victory statewide and nationally, all while establishing the cornerstone of his legacy as a champion of the working class who stands up for the rights of the poor in the midst of one of America’s most prosperous locales.
The alternative, should he choose to veto, sees Leggett stand with Donald Trump, Paul Ryan and Gov. Hogan by siding with the interests of corporate power and profits over the needs of people who are struggling in his backyard. For one of the supposedly most liberal districts in the nation to reject an explicit plank of the Democratic Party platform and a key piece of the progressive agenda would deal a serious blow to the national Fight for $15 movement and continue the split and rancor within the party as establishment figures like Leggett continue the business-as-usual approach that led to the defeat of Hillary Clinton and countless Democrats over the past decade.
The time has come for Leggett to take a stand, cement his legacy, and stake his claim as a bold leader both in his responsibility to the people of Montgomery County and in that polity’s growing leadership role in the progressive movement and the Democratic Party’s return to power.
Sign the bill, Mr. Leggett, and you can carry that political capital into the coming fights with the Trump administration, such as Trump’s promise to revoke federal funds to “sanctuary cities” such as Montgomery County. Democrats, progressives, working people and your tremendously diverse constituency are ready to stand behind you if you will lead.
Bobby Bartlett is a resident of Germantown, MD, and a member of Progressive Maryland.