O’Malley talks up minimum wage hike, downplays dispute over immigration

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley on Thursday reunited with U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez, a former member of the governor’s Cabinet, to make some burritos and talk up the importance of raising the minimum wage.

The event at a Bethesda restaurant was the first time O’Malley (D) had appeared in public with a member of the Obama administration since a dust-up last month over how to handle thousands of unaccompanied migrant children coming across the U.S. border.

Whatever lingering tension remains between the Obama and O’Malley administrations was not on display Thursday, however, as O’Malley and Perez showered one another with praise and spoke about the record of cooperation between the governor and president on numerous other issues.

“The governor has been there for us and continues to be,” said Perez, a former Montgomery County Council member who served as O’Malley’s secretary of labor, licensing, and regulation from 2007 to 2009.

“No president’s every picked a better labor secretary,” O’Malley said in return.

The focus of the event at Boloco restaurant was the president’s support for raising the federal minimum wage. O’Malley touted the legislation passed this year in Maryland which will increase the state’s minimum from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 by mid-2018.

And Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), who was on hand as well, spoke of Montgomery’s plan to boost the minimum wage within its borders to $11.50 by 2017.

Perez said those in Congress who push “the old tired talking points” about the dangers of increasing wages could learn a lesson from what’s happened in Montgomery County and in Maryland.

“Part of coming here is telling the rest of the world . . . the sky is not falling,” he said.

O’Malley, who is weighing a 2016 presidential bid, argued that requiring businesses to pay their workers more is “good for our economy.”

“Prosperity isn’t something that trickles down from the top,” he said.

O’Malley said Boloco, a chain that specializes in burritos, pays its workers an average of $11.50 an hour.

O’Malley, Perez and Leggett all took spins behind the counter rolling burritos as several lunch-hour patrons and a large media contingent looked on.

Despite the comity, there were still reminders Thursday of the immigration dispute, which was sparked by O’Malley questioning a move to fast track the deportation process for children who have come across the border.

The White House subsequently leaked word of O’Malley’s opposition to a possible shelter site in Carroll County, which he argued would not be the most hospitable jurisdiction for such a facility.

On Thursday, O’Malley’s political action committee distributed a letter on the issue written by Oscar Ramirez, vice chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party.

“Governor O’Malley has suffered attacks for speaking forcefully about the humanitarian crisis on our border,” Ramirez said. “But none of us can be silent if we expect Congress to have the courage to act, and we must make our voices heard today.”

His letter went on urge O’Malley supporters to write a letter to the editor of their local papers encouraging Congress “to ensure these children are treated humanely and given the chance to make their case for asylum in front of an immigration judge.”

John Wagner has covered Maryland government and politics for The Post since 2004.
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