Emmer might need a few tips

EMMER MIGHT NEED A FEW TIPS…. With so many really conservative candidates seeking statewide office this year, it can be challenging keeping up with all of them and their antics. Kentucky’s Rand Paul, Nevada’s Sharron Angle, Colorado’s Ken Buck, Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson — in a normal year, candidates like these would struggle badly to even generate mainstream attention. This year, with an angry electorate and a GOP that’s shifted to the hard-right, all of these candidates have a credible shot at success.

But let’s not overlook Minnesota’s Tom Emmer, a state representative who’s the presumptive Republican gubernatorial nominee this year. Emmer hasn’t garnered quite as much national scrutiny as the Sharron Angles of the world, but there’s ample reason to throw his name in the mix when discussing 2010’s most extreme candidates.

Emmer’s newest flap has to do with economic ideas. About a week ago, the Minnesota Republican said he had a great idea to improve the state economy: lower the minimum wage for waiters and waitresses, and force them to rely more heavily on tips. As Emmer argued, “some” servers are “earning over $100,000 a year,” so lowering their minimum wage wouldn’t be a problem if the state credited their tips towards Minnesota’s wage requirement.

With no evidence of in-state wait-staff taking home six figures, Emmer became the subject of some mockery. He’s now starting to walk back his idea.

Emmer tried to backtrack by posting a statement on his website, declaring that his proposal would not actually affect workers’ wages at all: “I want the wait staff at a restaurant to be successful and make as much as they can, and a recent study published in Applied Economics Letters shows that tip credits have essentially no negative impact on wages for tipped employees. So contrary to what some people are saying, I have no interest in ‘cutting wages.'”

The Star Tribune published an editorial with the fitting title, “Tip to Emmer: Drop gratuity idea.” Of his insistence that economic forces would result in workers’ pay remaining the same, they said: “The result is a contradictory message with a cynical aftertaste. Emmer appears to be telling business owners that he wants to do them a favor at their workers’ expense. Then he tells those same workers: Don’t worry. Your employers will discover they can’t really lower your pay, no matter what state law says.”

While this is clearly amusing, and the kind of thing that can really resonate in a campaign (see “chicken for checkups”), it’s worth keeping in mind that the limits of Emmer’s ideology go well beyond bizarre ideas about servers and tips.

Indeed, by some measures, Emmer has the most radical ideas about constitutional law of any gubernatorial challenger running this year.

Emmer, who’s also a lawyer, believes in a 19th-century-era concept called “nullification.” It’s kind of like secession-lite — states can overrule federal law whenever they choose to do so. The concept has been rejected as nonsense since the Civil War, but Emmer has not only endorsed it, he co-sponsored a measure that would presumptively nullify all federal laws in the state of Minnesota.

Under Emmer’s proposal, no federal mandate upon the state would be honored by Minnesota unless the governor, Speaker of the state House and state Senate Majority Leader were to issue determinations that the federal government has the power to legislate in that area. If any of those three officials were to determine that the federal government does not have the relevant power, the mandate could not take effect unless the legislature passed a law specifically applying it.

MinnPost pointed out to Emmer that this idea runs afoul of the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, which established that federal laws are the “supreme Law of the Land” to which states are bound. It was only noted that Emmer’s method skips the traditionally accepted manner for states to challenge a federal law, to file a lawsuit and adjudicate the matter in the courts. Emmer responded that this is the “preferred mechanism by some. That is usually federal-leaning constitutionalists.” But he said the states shouldn’t wait for courts to determine the scope of the federal government’s authority.

Emmer even wrote an op-ed a few weeks ago insisting, “As governor, I will push back against this federal encroachment into our local affairs. I believe that our Legislature should have a voice in whether federal laws should be made to apply to Minnesotans.”

This isn’t just a garden-variety bad idea; this is truly crazy. It’s the kind of sentiment one might expect from John C. Calhoun in 1833, not a 21st-century major-party gubernatorial candidate.