Activists still want minimum wage increase despite "get a job" gaffe listen07/13/12 Janelle Irwin
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Last week at a Fourth of July event in Treasure Island, member of Congress Bill Young told a constituent to â€œget a jobâ€. The comment from the longtime Republican politician was in response to a question about raising the minimum wage and sparked national outcry from those who thought it was offensive. A YouTube video of the comment has more than 34,000 hits so far.
â€œHi, Iâ€™m Pepe. How are you?
"Happy Fourth of July."
"Jesse Jackson Jr. is passing a bill around to increase the minimum wage to ten bucks an hour, do you support that?"
"Ten bucks an hour to give us a living wage?" "How about getting a job?"
"I do have one. I make $8.50 an hour".
"Why do you want that benefit? Get a job.
â€œI have a job, but itâ€™s not enough to get by on."
Pepe Kovanis, the constituent in the video, recently started his own business growing organic vegetables. At a press conference today in St. Pete about the issue, Kovanis said the current minimum - $7.67 per hour â€“ isnâ€™t a living wage.
â€œI really do think ten dollars an hour is fair, itâ€™s a livable wage. I think anything short of that would be difficult. People would struggle to still get by. I mean, of course Iâ€™d welcome it but I really think we need ten dollars an hour.â€
Because he is self-employed, a change to the minimum wage would not directly affect him. But Kovanis thinks the $8.50 an hour he makes in profits would go up because people would have more spending power. He also doesnâ€™t agree with the argument that raising the minimum wage would cost taxpayers more money.
â€œYou would reduce the amount of public assistance thatâ€™s going out to the people because now theyâ€™re earning it. They would then be paying more income tax on the money they bring in.â€
Kovanis wasnâ€™t the only one unhappy with Youngâ€™s behavior last week. Progressive activist Bill Hurley who is active with groups like the Florida Consumer Action Network and sometimes the Occupy Movement, asked Young why more isnâ€™t being done to help low-income veterans. Young didnâ€™t respond and instead, walked away from Hurley who is a veteran.
â€œI kind of got mad at because heâ€™s my representative and he shouldnâ€™t be walking away no matter if the questions are hard. If you ask me a hard question Iâ€™m going to sit here and try to answer it as honestly as I can. I expect the same from somebody I voted for which Iâ€™ll never do again.â€
Both Hurley and Kovanis said theyâ€™re frustrated and want an apology and a commitment from Young that he will meet with them. As of today, they havenâ€™t gotten either. Itâ€™s raised concerns that after more than 50 years in politics, heâ€™s out of touch with voters. One of Youngâ€™s opponents in next monthâ€™s Republican primary, Darren Ayres, offered his would-be constituents the meeting they want. A member of his campaign staff, Karena Morrison, said Ayres isnâ€™t focused on raising the minimum wage, but Young handled the disagreement in policy inappropriately.
â€œDarren is basically is concerned about everyone getting jobs and basically what he said was, people without a job â€“ you canâ€™t really get more minimum than that. He wants to work for a healthy economy. But sitting down and reaching out to Pepe and having a conversation and explaining that to him he felt was imperative to be a true representative of the people.â€
Peggy Goodale, another constituent at the press conference, said she was still shocked at the way he handled the questions. She said it hasnâ€™t done his campaign any favors, but anticipates the member of Congress bouncing back from it.
â€œHeâ€™s clever and heâ€™s able to turn things. He can vote certain ways but he comes out as being for things. I think his staff at his office are just wonderful people and really keep people from being more angry. If he didnâ€™t have such good staff handling people, there would be more anger I think.â€
The Florida Consumer Action Network has been compiling signatures urging Young to apologize for his â€œget a jobâ€ comment. They plan to deliver the petitions to his district office in Seminole on July 24. According to a spokesperson for the group, that day is significant because itâ€™s the third anniversary of the last time minimum wage was increased.
WMNF tried to reach Young for comment, but he did not respond by air time.