The minimum wage debate has landed in New Jersey prompting a showdown not just between the state legislature and the governor’s office but between two warring political factions in an election year.
NJ to Raise Minimum Wage
The New Jersey Senate recently passed a bill that would gradually raise the state minimum wage. It’s at $8.38 right now, but the bill would incrementally bring it up until it tops out at a Bernie Sanders’ approved $15 per hour. The state assembly rubber stamped the legislation and volleyed it over to Donald Trump’s number one fan, Chris Christie. So far … crickets.
Most political reporters expect Christie to veto the legislation, but at this point, he’s stuck on “wait and see.” If Christie surprises the political prognosticators, New Jersey will join California and New York as states setting a new standard in the minimum wage conversation.
There’s no doubt the red leader of a traditionally blue state has to weigh the winds before he drops the hammer. Christie isn’t afraid to make less than moderate decisions, but he’s a consummate politician who understands the need for narrative control. In other words, it’s not always what you do, it’s how you talk about what you do.
How Will Christie Respond?
Of course, his messaging up to this point has been in keeping with Trump’s base, calling a move to $15 per hour “reckless” … a term his conservative constituents love. And Christie has an out. If he does veto the bill – and that’s increasingly likely – that’s not the end of the deal for those seeking more cash in their paychecks. Waiting in the wings is a 2017 ballot initiative which could allow voters to determine how and when to raise the minimum wage in the Garden State.
As with many other political issues, this one is a tangle of messaging, projective narrative, and expected values. Christie is riding a conservative populist wave with Trump, but he’s still the hard-nosed, tough-talking red leader of a decidedly blue state. It’s a tough tightrope to walk, and, to this point, Christie has been walking it well. He remains popular and powerful in both state and national politics, and he seems to appeal both to his traditional base and to pragmatists on the other side of the aisle. This is a testament to solid public relations. Especially in light of some scandals in recent years.
One group Christie will need to soothe if the bill passes, with or without his veto pen, is the membership of the New Jersey Chambers of Commerce. Predictably, they hate this bill, and will excoriate anyone who votes in favor, especially a governor who ran as “pro-business.” No matter what happens, Christie will need to keep private channels of communication open with these groups even as he maintains a bridge spanning public persona.
David Firester is a proud NJ resident and business owner of TRAC Intelligence.