CHICAGO | Illinois Democrats continued their election-year strategy of pushing for a minimum wage hike Friday when U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin used a Martin Luther King breakfast to call for an increase to the state's rate and blast a Republican gubernatorial candidate for his evolving stance on the issue.
Echoing a nationwide Democratic strategy, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat told attendees of the city's annual commemorative breakfast that he'll work with Illinois lawmakers to raise the state rate. He said even though Illinois' $8.25 an hour rate is $1 higher than the national wage, it should be more for working families.
He then took a shot at suburban Chicago businessman Bruce Rauner, who initially said he'd advocate for lowering the state's minimum wage to the national rate of $7.25 then said he'd be in favor of raising it under certain circumstances. The venture capitalist who's making his first foray into politics has raised more than five times the other three Republican gubernatorial candidates combined through his connections and personal wealth, but on the campaign trail he's portrayed himself as an everyday guy who wears an inexpensive watch and dresses in outdoorsy gear.
But Durbin told attendees of Chicago's annual breakfast that he didn't see it that way.
"To think a major candidate for office in this state would call for reducing minimum wage tells me he's out of touch," Durbin said without specifically naming Rauner. "He may have a Carhartt jacket and $18 watch but he isn't in touch with the reality of life in working America."
Rauner's campaign responded by criticizing top Democrats.
"Quinn's allies know he's failed and will say anything to distract from his disastrous record," Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf said in a statement.
Minimum wage has become a major issue in the 2014 race for Illinois governor. Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat who's seeking re-election, said he wants Illinois' rate to be at least $10 by year's end. Rauner's change on the issue has also helped bring it to the forefront.
The other three Republican candidates — Treasurer Dan Rutherford and state Sens. Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard — currently oppose an increase, saying it hurts jobs and that Illinois' rate already is the highest among Midwestern states. However, Dillard previously voted for an increase, which he said he did under better economic times. And Brady, while the GOP nominee in 2010, had to clarify his stance after suggesting it should be the same as the national wage.
Illinois last raised its rate in 2010 under a series of step increases. Approximately 1.1 million Illinois workers would be impacted by an increase, according to the state estimates.