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Hawley and McCaskill

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley and U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill. Hawley, a Republican, is challenging McCaskill for her Senate seat.

JEFFERSON CITY • Incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill strongly backs a minimum-wage hike that is appearing on the November ballot.

Democrats hope the issue puts her Republican challenger, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, on the defensive in a state where more than three-fourths of voters supported a wage hike in 2006.

The two candidates have jabbed each other for months, trying to cast the other as out of touch and elite. Republicans have rapped McCaskill’s private plane use and her husband’s wealth — some of it tied to the Cayman Islands, other earnings tied to controversial tax breaks for conservation easements. Roll Call lists McCaskill as the 24th wealthiest member of Congress.

McCaskill, meanwhile, has made fun of Hawley’s “fancy” Yale law degree. She often notes she waited tables as a student at Mizzou. And she landed on the right side of public opinion when it came to the “right to work” vote in August. Now, if history is a guide, she is poised to land in agreement with the majority of voters on the minimum wage in November.

“We have an opportunity in November to raise the minimum wage in Missouri, and I am 100 percent in favor of that,” McCaskill told a crowd at Lona’s Lil Eats in south St. Louis on Thursday. “(Hawley) is not fighting for the workers. He is fighting for the folks in the boardroom.”

Hawley says he has not decided whether he will vote to raise the minimum wage in November.

“I think a minimum-wage increase is probably a good idea,” Hawley said to reporters Thursday when told of McCaskill’s attack. “I’m not so sure that the one that’s on the ballot this fall is a good idea. I’m worried that it may result in actually lost jobs. I haven’t made up my mind on it.”

He went on to blast McCaskill’s support for policies that “sent jobs overseas, kept wages flat” and “raised health care costs.”

Hawley is expected to release an economic plan within the next several weeks, his campaign said Thursday. He also said Thursday that “workers deserve a raise in this country, probably not just workers at the minimum, but every worker in the country — particularly those beneath the median wage. We need to pursue policies in Washington, D.C.,” that result in higher wages.

Shortly after taking office in January 2017, Hawley filed an amicus brief in federal court as part of an effort to zap Obama-era rules that would have expanded overtime pay eligibility to millions of workers.

“This office has joined the fight against rules issued by President Obama that would require Missouri businesses to adopt new overtime and minimum-wage standards,” Hawley said then. “These rules would cost Missouri jobs, they would be incredibly expensive for small business, and they would probably end up driving down wages for Missouri workers.”

Hawley, now 38, penned a column in 1995 for his hometown newspaper in Lexington, Mo., in which he criticized the minimum wage.

On Feb. 2 that year, he wrote a column in the Lexington News opposing an attempt by congressional Democrats to raise the minimum wage. Hawley was 15 years old.

“(T)he minimum wage is another example of the government’s attempt to influence the economy,” Hawley wrote. “Like other relics of Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal,’ the minimum wage is based upon a simple concept: People don’t know best; government knows best.

He continued: “Of course, a minimum-wage increase looks good on the surface — after all, why shouldn’t we raise working people’s wages?” Hawley asked. “The problem with the minimum wage is the straightjacket it places upon the free market. And in the end, it invariably ends up hurting the people it was made to help.

“Companies that have large payrolls will be forced to critically review their operations, and inevitably, they will cut back. The reason is a fundamental rule of business: You do not increase your costs without increasing productivity, and that is exactly what the minimum-wage does.”

Hawley goes on to say teenagers would have trouble entering the workforce, and said “beneath the surface of a seemingly charitable proposal lurk dark consequences, especially for the younger generation.

“Such measures as price and wage controls are merely attempts to stifle the power of the people in a free market, and in a free society,” a young Hawley wrote.

Mark Schlinkmann of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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