When political tensions are at their highest and families are worried about their future, it is surprising to see Democrats failing to do more to advance a bold agenda that gives people hope, a reason to be for something, not simply against far-right Republicans. From paid family leave in the District to a minimum-wage increase in Maryland, Democrats are falling short rather than delivering on common-sense solutions that are overwhelmingly popular with families and Democratic voters. This is bad policy and bad politics.
Last year the D.C. Council passed a much-lauded and desperately needed paid-family-leave bill, a program that would ensure that working families don’t have to choose between making ends meet and caring for a new baby or parent in the hospital. The council spent two years carefully debating and considering a wide range of proposals. In December, a super majority of the council passed the Universal Paid Leave Act, a bill that included significant compromises demanded by big business lobbyists but nonetheless delivered on its central promise.
Now, instead of working to implement the paid family leave program and help more than 540,000 working families take care of their loved ones when illness strikes, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson has bowed to industry giants by delaying it. Unbelievably, he is considering weaker alternatives that would not meet the needs of the families who need this program most. More than 80 percent of District residents support family leave; making them wait any longer for this program, much less a weaker one, is just cruel.
By giving corporate interests a seat at the table to weaken existing law, the council is allowing industry lobbyists to take a page out of the Trump playbook. These shenanigans leave residents to wonder if they can trust the council. The right thing to do is to immediately fund and implement family leave. Families and small business owners spent two years fighting for this program, and the District owes it to them to deliver on their promise.
Next door in Maryland, Del. Dereck E. Davis, a Democrat from Prince George’s County, sponsored a bill that would have taken away the rights of local governments to make their own decisions about worker protections, especially in the area of wages. Bills such as this one have been popping up across the country — but it’s usually right-wing Republicans, not Democrats, pushing them. Similar legislation has been proposed by the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council.
His bill, which was tabled earlier this session, was a blatant attempt at a power grab by big corporations that would undermine our democracy by baring local jurisdictions from taking action to help families. Democrats should be fighting to raise wages and provide lifelines to families struggling to survive, not proposing legislation written by industry lobbyists. That is literally the opposite of what we need.
Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated incident. Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) vetoed legislation that would have made the D.C. suburb the first jurisdiction in Maryland to require a $15 per hour minimum wage. Leggett’s opposition to the bill was eerily similar to that of big-business interests and not allied with a party that has for decades stood for paying workers a decent wage.
In Baltimore, newly elected Mayor Catherine Pugh just vetoed legislation that would raise the city’s wage to $15 per hour. The Baltimore City Council continues to move to the left, but the city’s leadership refuses to acknowledge that city residents are tired of business as usual. Luckily for working families, the fight will continue as the legislature is considering raising the statewide minimum wage.
The actions of Mendelson, Davis, Leggett and Pugh point to a Democratic Party that is backing away from practical solutions to needs the of their constituents. Raising wages and providing paid leave not only helps families struggling to make ends meet but is also incredibly popular with voters. We can and should lead the country in progressive policies to deliver on the issues most important to families struggling to make ends meet, who are being crushed by rising housing costs and more. Our success will also be an example for the rest of the country and rebuke of Trumpism.
Nationwide, Democrats are reeling from the loss of the White House, Congress and state legislatures and local government seats. The worst choice we can make is to move away from our base in an attempt to court the support of big business interests. It’s not enough to be against something; we need to demonstrate what we are for. Failing to do so will cost Democrats and hurt the very people who rely on our party to fight for them.
Valerie Ervin, a former councilwoman in Montgomery County, is a senior adviser for the Working Families Party.