Challengers for congressional seats are scrambling for issues to get their names in front of voters who likely aren't giving much thought these hot summer days to the Nov. 7 election. Democratic challenger Danny Stover of Centralia, a Kaskaskia College professor, called on U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, to reject a congressional pay raise until such time as Congress approves an increase in the federal minimum wage.
"As a constituent of Rep. Shimkus, I would like to see him do the right thing and vote to give American workers a raise before giving himself and his colleagues one," Stover said in a news release.
The minimum wage has not increased since 1997, the second longest period it has gone without being adjusted for inflation, Stover said. Since 1997, members of Congress have raised their salaries by more than $30,000 so they exceed $165,000, he said.
But the salary increase is a done deal.
Looking for politicians' hands in that raise is like looking for needle in a haystack. Since Congress adopted the Ethics Reform Act in 1989, congressmen have used a neat trick to give themselves raises without seeming to do so: They get an automatic cost-of-living increase unless they vote to block it. The raises are tucked into an appropriations bill, usually one that covers many federal employees.
Shimkus spokesman Steve Tomaszewski said the congressman did not get to vote just on the pay raise, which was contained in a bill with other items.
"When he has had the opportunity, he voted against it," Tomaszewski said. "It was a procedural vote."
When Shimkus was the Madison County treasurer, he returned a $20,000 pay raise, Tomaszewski said. The congressman has supported increasing the minimum wage, he said.
In 2000, Shimkus pushed legislation increasing the minimum wage by $1 over three years and later supported an alternate bill to increase it $1 over two years, Tomaszewski said. Though the House and Senate approved bills containing increases, conferees failed to reach agreement on the bills' differences and they died, he said.
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Another Democrat, Dr. David Gill of Clinton, took a swing last week at U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, for voting against Internet neutrality when the issue came before the U.S. House on June 8.
"The Internet is a crucial engine for economic growth and free speech," Gill stated in a news release. "From its beginnings, it has leveled the playing field for all comers. Everyday people can have their voices heard by millions of people. This is democracy in its truest sense."
Adoption of Internet neutrality regulations would prevent Internet service providers from charging Web companies more for faster connections to consumers, Gill said.
"Cable and telecommunications giants now seek to eliminate the Internet's open road in favor of a tollway that protects their status quo while stifling new ideas and innovation," Gill said.
Johnson spokesman Phil Bloomer said the primary thrust of the June bill was to allow telephone companies into the video marketplace because cable companies have for decades had a lock on most local markets.
The bill codifies the Federal Communications Commission's 2005 broadband policy statement, which included principles to "encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet," Bloomer said.
The principles stated consumers are entitled to access lawful Internet content of their choice, run applications and services of their choice subject to the needs of law enforcement, connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network and have competition among network providers.
In a statement released by Bloomer, Johnson said, "I will continue to monitor Internet business, and if Internet providers are mishandling traffic or creating a marketplace that prevents or deliberately slows access to consumers, Congress still has the authority to intervene.
"But technology is moving at such a pace that the Internet is capable of things we were unable to imagine years ago, and I want to see that growth continue unimpeded."
Ron Ingram can be reached at ringram@ herald-review.com or 421-7973 and Mike Frazier can be reached at mfrazier@ herald-review.com or 421-7985.