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Rauner struggles to explain shifting positions on minimum wage

ElectionsBruce RaunerIllinois GovernorTelevision IndustryRadio

Wealthy Republican governor candidate Bruce Rauner struggled Thursday to explain his shifting statements about Illinois’ minimum wage, maintaining he never said he supported cutting the state’s $8.25 per hour minimum wage by $1, even though he was recorded on videotape advocating just that.

Appearing on a Chicago radio show Thursday, Rauner was asked to explain why he proposed “rolling back” Illinois minimum wage to make it equivalent to the $7.25 an hour federal rate.

“First of all, I didn’t say that, so let’s be clear. But I didn’t chose my words well,” Rauner told WGN 720-AM’s Steve Cochran.

But at a December business forum in Moline with his three Republican rivals, Rauner made clear his support for pushing back the state’s minimum wage.

“I will advocate moving the Illinois minimum wage back to the national minimum wage. I think we’ve got to be competitive here in Illinois. It’s critical we’re competitive. We’re hurting our economy by having the minimum wage above the national. We’ve got to move back to the national,” Rauner said. His appearance was at the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce event was recorded by public television station WQPT, a forum co-sponsor.

On Wednesday, Rauner told the Tribune his minimum wage remarks last month were “a mistake” and “flippant” as he embarked on a round of damage control over fear he had undercut his attempts to use millions of dollars in TV commercials to show that he could empathize with common voters despite his considerable wealth.

As Rauner spent a second day trying to clean up his position on the minimum wage, state records showed the Republican governor candidate put another $1 million of his own money into the campaign. The Jan. 2 influx means Rauner has put in $2.25 million in personal funds.

Though Rauner sought to indicate he was rushed in giving an inarticulate answer at the Quad Cities forum, Rauner and his three foes for the March 18 GOP nomination had been provided the questions in advance, according to an email sent to the campaigns by the event’s organizers.

Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf sought to explain the candidate’s latest remarks as a semantic issue rather than a substantive one.

Schrimpf said Rauner believes “there is a distinction between saying move the minimum wage to national average and simply saying cut it by a buck — and Bruce was clear on (the) Cochran (radio show) that what he said in Moline was a mistake and then he said what he supports.”

Rauner on Wednesday told the Tribune he supported an increase in the federal rate of up to $10 an hour and wanted to tie it to Illinois’ minimum wage to keep the state competitive with other states — as long as Illinois also made changes to a pro-business climate.

But on Thursday, he was more muddled in his explanation to WGN Radio and also in a piece he authored on the Tribune’s editorial pages.

“Our Illinois wage should be the same as the national minimum wage and I am comfortable, I support, raising the national minimum wage,” Rauner said on WGN-AM. Challenged on the radio appearance that he was saying two different things, Rauner responded that Illinois’ current higher minimum wage hurts the state’s business climate.

“I want Illinois’ wage to be the same as the (federal) minimum so that we’re competitive. Right now, Illinois is not competitive,” he said.

In his editorial, Rauner gave a previously unoffered alternative to raising the federal minimum wage. He said he could back increasing the state’s minimum wage if Illinois adopted “creative solutions to avoid further damage to our state’s already shattered business climate,” including “incentives” to small business.

Also Thursday, a video surfaced in which Rauner said he was “adamantly, adamantly against raising the minimum wage” during a candidate forum in Downstate Gibson City in September. The video was shot by Blueroomstream.com.

Rauner’s troubles over the minimum wage prompted the first public statements of a new independent political action committee formed to combat the GOP candidate. The Republican Fund for Progress and Jobs also reported its first union donation, $45,000 from the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150.

Steven Shearer, the PAC’s chairman, said Rauner was trying to “put toothpaste back in the tube” by walking back his minimum wage comments and said the notion that he would be the “inevitable nominee has been shattered.” Shearer is the former chief of staff of Republican U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock of Peoria.

At the same time, Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who as an investment banker worked with Rauner on a takeover deal credited with helping make the mayor a wealthy man, said he was surprised the Republican candidate “would even cross the line of thinking about reducing” the minimum wage.

“The idea that you would reduce it is actually an idea that looks backwards and is an idea that is going to take us down,” said Emanuel, who also has received campaign donations from Rauner.

Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, who is seeking re-election and an increase in the state’s minimum wage to $10, previously likened the Republican candidates to bank owner Mr. Potter in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” On Thursday, Quinn compared the Republicans opposed to a minimum wage hike to miserly nuclear power plant owner “C. Montgomery Burns” of The Simpsons.

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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