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Commentary: ‘Down-ballot’ issues that could impact retailers and other businesses


Because of the tone and tenor of the presidential campaign, lots of folks might be surprised to learn there are many other significant races going on across the country. These so-called “down-ballot” elections for governors’ offices, U.S. House and Senate seats, state legislatures and other offices may hold the real clues for what the next four years entail for employers, no matter who wins the White House. Believe it or not, there are substantive candidates actually discussing substantive kitchen table issues that impact families and communities.

For employers, there are two things worth noting down-ballot. First, while issues impacting the P&L like minimum wage, paid leave, and pay equity have played a less prominent role at the presidential level than anticipated, in many battleground states, they are front and center. The Fight for $15 campaign has made a concerted effort to affect electoral outcomes in Pennsylvania, Missouri, Wisconsin, Ohio, Arizona, New Hampshire, and North Carolina.

The movement is not only elevating the issues, its advocates are organizing significant Get Out The Vote (GOTV) efforts. Races up and down the ballot in those states will be decided by razor-thin margins and this type of concerted targeting may produce favorable results for their campaign.

The second, however, may be even more impactful. Polling suggests that in many regions across the country, the unique nature of the Trump campaign and the reaction in many quarters to his candidacy, may be causing a drag on other Republicans on the ticket.

In particular, candidates in the Midwest and New England, regardless of whether they are running for state or federal office, are clearly distancing themselves from Trump. With toss-up governors and/or Senate races in New Hampshire, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and Indiana, lots of Republican candidates – and voters – are running for cover.

The result of these defections are that in many parts of the country, some anti-business candidates who were likely underdogs a year ago, will win some very close elections. Additionally, numerous proposals affecting entry-level employers are going to pass easily at the ballot. In the states of Maine, Washington, Arizona, Colorado and the cities of Berkeley, California, and Flagstaff, Arizona, voters will decide whether to raise the minimum wages in those states and cities as well as deciding on various proposals to eliminate the tip credit and enact paid leave laws. Despite the best effort of the affected employer community and their industry allies, every one of those proposals will become law.

The bottom line is no matter who wins the White House, the situation in Washington stays largely the same. Even if the Democrats are successful in taking back the U.S. Senate, passing large minimum wage increases and paid leave mandates will still face an uphill battle in Congress meaning the epicenter of activity on those issues will continue to be at the state and local level. From that perspective, every indication is that the next few years will look a lot like the last few years and the elected officials who control the collective destinies of employers can be found down the ballot. And the further down the ballot you go, according to the polls, the larger the Trump effect becomes.

Employers need to recognize that the national narrative around our brands and business models is not emanating from Washington – it is coming from the city squares and town halls. Governors and mayors will impact the bottom line going forward more than president’s and Congress. So when you go into the voting booth in a few weeks, don’t forget to look down.

Joe Kefauver is managing partner of Align Public Strategies, a full-service public affairs and creative firm that helps corporate brands, governments and nonprofits navigate the outside world and inform their internal decision-making. Align specializes in service sector industries.

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