Idaho’s topping US in minimum-wage workers is GOP’s fault, says new Democratic chairman

News that Idaho is No. 1 in the nation in the proportion of minimum wage workers brought a swift retort from the newly elected chairman of the Idaho Democratic Party, Larry Kenck.

In a statement early Thursday, Kenck said decades of GOP control of state policy are at fault, including failure to invest in education and last year’s income tax cuts that reduced rates at the top of the tax tables.

“We need responsible leadership in our state and we as citizens must hold our state elected leaders accountable for the terrible priorities that put workers and education—and ultimately, businesses—last,” said Kenck, who was elected chairman Saturday.

Kenck, of Post Falls, is a former Teamsters Union official who fought against the successful GOP effort to enact Right to Work in the 1980s. Since then, union membership in Idaho has fallen sharply, now ranking seventh from the bottom nationally as a proportion of the workforce, at 7.8 percent.

Republicans have controlled the Legislature without interruption since 1960. A 24-year run of Democratic governors ended in 1995, with Republicans holding the top office since. Kenck said citizens must hold the GOP accountable.

About 33,000 Idaho hourly employees, or 7.7 percent of the hourly workforce, earned the minimum wage in 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Idaho GOP declined comment. “Although I appreciate the opportunity to comment the Idaho Republican Party does not have a comment at this time,” said Executive Director Joshua Whitworth.

Kenck’s news release follows:


Idaho Low Wages Result from Years of Failed GOP Policies

Boise, Idaho—IDP Chairman Larry Kenck made this statement in response to news that Idaho leads the nation in the percentage of workers who earn the minimum wage:

Idaho has suffered from decades of GOP policies that do very little to encourage high-paying businesses to re-locate to Idaho or to stay in Idaho.

Every time you ask businesses to name their top need, they will say a “well-educated and qualified workforce.” So, while Idaho leads the nation in minimum wage workers, we are at the absolute bottom of the nation in our investment in education. To make matters worse, just last year our legislators chose to give $35.7 million in cuts to the wealthiest Idahoans even though education budgets still remain far below pre-recession levels.

We need responsible leadership in our state and we as citizens must hold our state elected leaders accountable for the terrible priorities that put workers and education—and ultimately, businesses—last. And, remember, the story about our shameful minimum wage problem is just a statistic in the newspaper and to the legislature and governor, but out here in the real world it isn’t a statistic at all—it’s real families of hardworking Idahoans who need fair wages and a fair shot at prosperity to give their children the bright futures they deserve.

Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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