Representative Stacy Guerin, a Republican from Glenburn, is sponsoring a bill that would reverse the higher minimum wage for tipped workers. Several Democrats have joined to co-sponsor the bill. Guerin’s family owns a restaurant-supply store, and she said she’s heard workers are actually making less now.
“We are already hearing reports of declining tips,” she said. “Servers are overhearing people saying, ‘Oh, they’re making minimum wage, you don’t have to tip them anymore.’ Nobody wants to make minimum wage,” but before the law, Guerin said, servers could make good money off tips.
Servers didn’t rally against the law ahead of the election, Guerin said, because they didn’t understand what the law would do, based on the short text on the ballot.
“Working people are busy and they don’t have the time to investigate the backstory on these ballot initiatives that have been forced on Maine by an out-of-state lobby,” she said.
Guerin, like lawmakers around the country who challenge ballot measures, can claim political support for what she is doing, but the clearest gauge of voter sentiment is the election in November. Moving to reverse that is, depending on one’s view, either an act of political suicide or an act of selfless leadership.
“I think it does take some political courage, but I absolutely believe it is the right thing to do for Maine servers,” Guerin said. “I believe this referendum was brought by out-of-staters that did not really have the values of Maine … I think they played Maine, and not for the good of workers. I am working for the good of Maine.”
The backers of the ballot measures see this not as principled leadership, but blatant disregard for popular will.
“It really does call into question the whole direct democracy if the legislature doesn’t implement them as the voters intended,” said John Kozinski, who works in government relations at the Maine Education Association and helped run the campaign to increase taxes for school funding.
Guerin’s concern that ordinary citizens weren’t really able to disentangle what the November initiative did is a common critique of popular referenda. Critics say voters are not always well-prepared to adjudicate difficult issues, and may make decisions that, however well-intentioned, turn out poorly.
“Sometimes an idea on the face of it seems like a brilliant idea, when in fact most of us don’t have a professional staff at our disposal,” said Jennie Bowser, a freelance writer who was a longtime observer of ballot initiatives for the National Council of State Legislatures. “Most of us don’t have a bird’s eye view of the budget. How our idea might mesh with the related policies around it. Sometimes initiatives are just not as fully thought through as they should be.”
That doesn’t sit well with advocates of direct democracy. “I find that deeply patronizing and paternalistic,” said Jonathan Schleifer, executive director of the Fairness Project, which coordinated state-level ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage in November, and is now pushing back against attempts to roll back the increases via courts and legislation. “I would argue that having worked on Capitol Hill that most legislators aren’t qualified to make these decision. If you can trust someone to chose who to vote for, then why aren’t they qualified to decide the particular issues that decide their lives?”