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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Mr. Prince Goes to Washington

Posted By on Wed, Jan 24, 2007 at 5:01 PM
Kit Bond: No friend of the common man
Last week Lew Prince got a phone call from Let Justice Roll, a group that lobbies on behalf of a higher minimum wage. Prince, co-owner of Vintage Vinyl (and sometime Riverfront Times opera critic), actively campaigned for Missouri's minimum wage ballot initiative, which voters overwhelmingly approved last November. The caller asked whether Prince would participate in a press conference with Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, who is spearheading the campaign to lift the federal minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour by 2009.

The bill passed the House last week, and Kennedy wanted to do a little press surge for the Senate because his Republican colleagues wanted to tack on tax breaks for restaurants and other businesses that rely on low-wage workers.

Recalls Prince: "I e-mailed back saying, 'Of course. Just tell me when to be by my phone and where to call.' I got this frantic phone call saying, 'No, no, no. You have to be in Washington.'"

Prince continues: "I thought I was going to be a prop: 'Here's a real small business owner who actually endorses it.' But when I got there I was asked to provide two minutes of speech. It was in the judiciary committee hearing room, which is the 'Sam Ervin Impeaches President Nixon Room' -- a pretty impressive room.

"[Kennedy] comes out and he says, 'I asked my staff what the heck a vintage vinyl was,' and somebody yelled across the room, 'Don't worry, in St. Louis everyone knows!'" Prince says he and the 74-year-old senator talked a little bit about St. Louis. "He actually wanted to talk about football. He was great. He looks really alert and focused."

Soon the room filled up, and Prince presented his case that a higher minimum wage would benefit small business owners much more than it will hurt them. He estimates that about 100 people, including folks from C-SPAN and CNN, were in attendance.

Energized, Prince decided to lobby Missouri Senator Kit Bond, one of the Republicans who wants to add language to the bill before approving it. "They want stuff in it, and the stuff they want in it is really antithetical to the bill -- stuff that will make it easier for big business," Prince says.

"I tried to make an appointment with Bond. His office said, 'He's not really available' -- which I was told by the Kennedy people was really odd. In general they'll speak to a constituent if he's willing to show up in Washington. I ended up getting handed off to an assistant to an assistant, who was as smarmy a little upper-crust Republican shit as anyone I've ever met. Basically I got stared at while I made the case. He brought a pad and paper but made no notes. Finally I said, 'Am I wasting my time here? Is the senator ever going to hear this?' He said, 'Well, I would describe the senator as a rational man,' which as far as it all got. It was appalling.

"The office is filled with Missouri things, including a big cooler of Fitz's [root beer]. I said, 'Hey, my business is across the street from Fitz's.' He looked at the Fitz's and me as though we were from another planet. I said, 'Have you ever been to Missouri?' He said, No, I'm from Virginia.'"

Earlier today, what Prince and Kennedy feared would happen, happened. Needing 60 votes to move the bill without tax breaks tacked on, lawmakers voted 54-43, with Bond among those voting against. The bill now returns to committee, where it will be rewritten.

-Randall Roberts


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