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Wisconsin State Rep. Chris Kapenga, who represents a suburb of Milwaukee where the average household income is two and a half times greater than that of the city of Milwaukee, really hates it when local governments mandate that some people be paid a living wage for their labor. It's socialism, you know. It's income redistribution. Worse than that, living wages are really yucky and scary, at least according to Rep. Kapenga's twitter feed. And they smell like Obama.  

This will probably shock you, but Chris Kapenga is a Republican.

On February 6th, the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors passed a living wage ordinance:

This bill will raise the wages of approximately 8,000 private employees working for county contractors to 100% of the poverty level for a family of four (roughly $11.33 in 2013). In addition, the bill indexes wages to the rate to inflation so that workers don’t lose purchasing power over time.
Did you get that? The bill would raise hourly wages up to the poverty level for about 8,000 workers. RAISE the wage UP TO the poverty level.

But Rep. Kapenga is a self-described numbers guy and he claims to have in his possession an analysis that proves how living wages - wages that raise a family UP TO THE POVERTY LEVEL - will destroy everything that is good in Wisconsin, including, for example, the few meager government programs that provide home health care for the elderly and disabled. The Milwaukee County home health care providers employed by those programs are some of the people whose wages would be raised UP TO THE POVERTY LEVEL. Their plight was cited by one of the leaders of the grassroots group Wisconsin Jobs Now, who testified at a hearing in the state Capitol today and explained why the ordinance was needed and why his organization supported the ordinance.

But there was Rep. Kapenga at the same hearing, study in hand, explaining that he didn't want to seem derogatory toward the man from Wisconsin Jobs Now but that he was cock-sure that raising peoples' wages UP TO THE POVERTY LEVEL is evil and stuff.

photo by Nicole Desautels
photo by Nicole Desautels

Oh, the hearing? It was the only public legislative committee hearing scheduled on a bill that Rep. Kapenga introduced yesterday that would eliminate the authority of Wisconsin municipalities and counties to enforce minimum wage ordinances. Less than a week after Milwaukee County passed it's living wage ordinance, Republican "small government" Representative and Waukesha County resident Kapenga was leading the charge to expand the powers of BIG GOVERNMENT in Madison to kill local control over local issues in Milwaukee County.  

The bill was introduced Tuesday morning in such haste that, according to the Capital Times:

...the incorrect version was posted to the Legislature’s website, where it remained throughout the day Tuesday.
One of the Democratic Representatives at today's hearing mentioned that he didn't even get a copy of the text until 9:30 Tuesday night for a hearing that was scheduled for 12 hours later.

Well, I dropped by that hearing today on my lunch hour. Considering the PUBLIC hearing was convened with barely 24 hours notice, there was quite a roomful of citizens there, including many from Milwaukee. It was hot in the small hearing room, a room that was almost certainly chosen deliberately for its small capacity. I heard a lobbyist from the Wisconsin Realtors Association predict doom and gloom for the commercial real estate market if the 8,000 Milwaukee County workers' wages were RAISED UP TO THE POVERTY LEVEL. He had to acknowledge when questioned that higher wages might help the residential real estate market.

Then I heard the representative from Wisconsin Jobs Now explaining how people in his family and in his neighborhood are working a lot more than 40 hours a week, two and three jobs, nights and weekends, and are still struggling.

Then, I heard Rep. Kapenga say something reminiscent of Sarah Palin bragging about seeing Russia from her front porch.

Rep. Kapenga described himself as "a little unique" and very sympathetic to the struggles being faced by residents of Milwaukee, because even though he lives in and represents the suburb of Delafield in Waukesha County, he employs people who live in Milwaukee and he drives through Milwaukee every day.

Sure enough, Chris Kapenga is the owner and president of a company with its headquarters in downtown Milwaukee. It's just a few blocks off the Interstate. I'm sure he soaks up all the culture and feels the soul of Milwaukee's many ethnic neighborhoods as he speeds past them on I-94. If not there are plenty of right wing radio stations in Milwaukee to help him understand "those people" while he commutes.

As you can imagine, the reaction of the ring of low-wage workers, Milwaukee County residents, and their supporters surrounding the committee included a mixture of laughter and disgust. I may have called out the name of a Jewish man who was crucified a couple thousand years ago as I left the hearing at that point to go join the Solidarity Sing Along in the rotunda.

UPDATE Thursday, February 13, 2014. Here is the video. Also, he posted twice on his facebook page in the last 24 hours, both times to announce upcoming appearances on Milwaukee hate-wing radio to discuss legislation he's working on. I could have predicted that. Oh, wait. I did!

I can see Milwaukee from my BMW!

Originally posted to Giles Goat Boy on Wed Feb 12, 2014 at 03:08 PM PST.

Also republished by Kitchen Table Kibitzing and Badger State Progressive.

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