Lawmakers Must Put Living Wage Over Corporate Profits
Originally published in Honolulu Civil Beat, January 31, 2019
Amy Perruso and Tina Wildberger
With Christmas and New Year celebrations now behind us and the 2019 legislative session underway, those of us newly elected to office are keenly aware that we must focus on the needs of those who elected us to represent them.
We are deeply grateful for every vote that was cast for us. And we are deeply mindful that we must work to deliver, not just for those voters, but for everyone in our districts. We have been reminded more than once that our obligation is to serve the needs of all the constituents in our districts, whether they voted for us or not.
We have all felt the pain of seeing that obligation too often disregarded by the White House and the Trump administration. But that failure in the highest ranks of our government nationally, and too often locally, only heightens our resolve, as newcomers to the Legislature, to never lose sight of the people we were elected to serve.
We take our seats in the Legislature with the words of our constituents still fresh in our ears and held fast in our heart. I think it’s fair to say that as we canvassed, we all saw and heard some degree of disillusionment with the Democratic Party. This is deeply saddening in a state that is overwhelmingly Democratic.
We Democrats who have been elected to office are being viewed through the prism of what is understood to be the Democratic Party ideology. That ideology can be summed up as “working for people, not just profit.” U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a recent interview, spoke of the values that unify us, chief among them being ensuring the economic security of America’s working families.
If we do not deliver on that economic security, we will contribute to deepening cynicism and the alienation of people from the democratic process. It is on us to rebuild trust and invite as many people as we can to participate in the civic process so they can see by our actions that we mean to listen and to act with their best interests at heart.
Are We Really A ‘Blue’ State?
Listening to our constituents must mean challenging practices that may have sufficed in the past but are past due for an overhaul. We implore policymakers who consistently defer to the “needs” of business to rethink their approach.
How can we prioritize corporate profits while failing to help working families survive when rents and food prices rise faster than their wages? What good is it to call this a “blue” state when we betray workers’ interests in favor of what corporate elites say works best for them?
The midterm elections across the nation signaled that we are re-examining who we are as a people, and who Democrats are as champions for working people. It is time to demonstrate that we can — and will — deliver on what we say we believe in. Every legislator who has said they believe in a living wage must act in accordance with that stated belief. It is, after all, in the first tier of the publicly stated priorities of the Democratic Party.
It isn’t complicated. Either we walk our talk or we will be voted out by voters who have grown tired of empty promises and political double-speak. More than ever we must restore faith in government.
It is on us. We call on our senior colleagues to join us in dusting out the cobwebs and letting in fresh air. It’s time for every elected official to renew and make clear through their policymaking that their commitment to do the will of the people is real. Let’s start with a living wage for the people of Hawaii. A state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism analysis tells us it is long overdue.
Amy Perruso is a teacher who represents House District 46 (Wahiawa, Whitmore Village, Launani Valley) in the Hawaii Legislature.
Tina Wildberger is a businesswoman who represents House District 11 (Kihei, Wailea, Makena) in the Hawaii Legislature.