California May Lead the Nation Forward with a $15 Minimum Wage

As Sanders and Clinton tussled nationally this cycle over their minimum wage proposals, Californians were ramping up for an expensive, contentious ballot initiative fight for a $15 minimum wage.

But now it appears that legislators may have saved voters from a torrent of mudslinging and misinformation by reaching a groundbreaking deal to be one of the first to lead the nation in bringing the minimum wage up to its proper $15 standard:

Lawmakers and labor unions have struck a tentative deal to raise the statewide minimum wage to $10.50 an hour next year and then gradually to $15, averting a costly political campaign this fall and possibly putting California at the forefront of a national movement.

The deal was confirmed Saturday afternoon by sources close to the negotiations who would speak only on condition of anonymity until Gov. Jerry Brown makes a formal announcement as early as Monday.

The provisions would take effect gradually over a period of years ending in 2023.

In terms of the presidential politics, the fact that the nation’s largest state economy seems likely to push forward a $15 minimum wage will likely provide a boost to the Sanders camp. It will be difficult for Clinton to argue for a $12 minimum when California is setting a $15 floor even in the poorest areas of the state.

The move also demonstrates that no matter who the Democratic nominee may be this year, the future of Democratic politics belongs to those who attempt to deal with inequality and economic insecurity in more aggressive ways than national Democrats have been accustomed to.

At a broader level, though, California’s move shows that activists who want to create real change should set their sights on state politics more than the national scene. Barring a Trump-fueled debacle, Republicans will likely hold the House through the 2020 election cycle, which in turn means that very few progressive priorities will see the light of day in Washington DC no matter who is president. States, on the other hand, will still be able to serve their function as laboratories of democracy.

There will come a day soon when progressives will be able to make serious inroads into national policy, but the next few years are probably not it. They can, however, make people’s lives better in state after state, while proving out the superiority of the blue state model over the red state one.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.