Maine Governor Goes Full Trump, Calls For Jailing Minimum Wage Advocates

Jacob Swenson-Lengyel

Donald Trump’s campaign is sinking quickly, but GOP support for right-wing authoritarianism is still going strong – particularly in Maine.

Days after the Republican presidential candidate suggested during a televised debate that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton should be jailed, Maine’s governor, Paul LePage, said that his political opponents should be imprisoned for “attempted murder.”

The alleged murder weapon? An increase in the minimum wage.

In a speech to the Lewiston-Auburn Chamber of Commerce, LePage said on Thursday that two leaders with Maine People’s Alliance, Ben Chin and Mike Tipping, “should be sent to jail for what they’re doing to the elderly.”

The incident has created an uproar, including banner headlines in the state’s major newspapers Friday morning. Then, instead of backing down, LePage doubled down Friday, likening a minimum-wage increase to “attempted murder” in an interview with a Portland-based radio station.

“To me when you go out and kill somebody, you go to jail. Well, this is attempted murder in my mind because it is pushing people to the brink of survival,” LePage said.

The comments appear to be a reaction to a heartbreaking new TV and online advertisement that shows how increasing the minimum wage – now only $7.50 an hour in Maine – could be a boost for people like Kathy Rondone, a 72-year old Mainer who is struggling to support herself and her husband, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.

Rondone isn’t alone. A report from the Maine Center for Economic policy shows that one in three Mainers older than 65 who work will benefit from the wage increase. In a state where the minimum wage lags significantly behind a living wage, the initiative could make a big difference for other Mainers as well. Overall, estimates show that roughly 181,000 Mainers will see a significant rise in their paycheck if Question 4 on the Maine ballot passes in November.

That measure would increase the minimum wage to $9 an hour by 2017 and a dollar every year thereafter until it reaches $12 an hour by 2020. Significantly, it would also eliminate the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers.

The economic theory behind LePage’s outrageous comment doesn’t hold much water either. LePage’s argument is that raising the minimum wage will contribute to inflation, raising prices and ultimately affecting people like seniors who are on a fixed budget.

Like other well-worn mantras from the conservative policy agenda, the theory simply isn’t borne out by reality. (Reality has long been anathema to conservatives.) For instance, early studies of Seattle, which approved an increase of the minimum wage to $15 by 2021, shows that the law has had little impact on prices.

LePage, an outspoken supporter of Donald Trump, has been actively intimidating Chin and Tipping for months, threatening to sue Tipping and featuring Chin in a “wanted” poster. Nor is this the first time LePage has shown a penchant for authoritarian politics. Earlier this week, LePage said that Donald Trump needs to show “authoritarian power” because the country is “slipping into anarchy” (although he later partially walked back the statement).

Discussing LePage’s attack on their weekly political podcast Friday morning, Chin and Tipping took the anti-democratic assault in good humor, asking what statute they had violated. However, Chin and Tipping are dead serious about working to pass Question 4 on the Maine ballot.

“Mainers are struggling to get by on a minimum wage of just $7.50 an hour. Seniors like Kathy Rondone have to chose between getting their car fixed and buying the medicine her husband needs,” said Chin. “Gov. LePage’s comments are an insult to democracy, and they show just how out of touch he and other Republican leaders are with the realities that Mainers face every day.”

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