ST. PAUL, Minn.
Republican Tom Emmer prepared Wednesday to meet with restaurant workers after suggestions he made about their wages created a backlash that has consumed his Minnesota gubernatorial campaign for more than a week.
The state lawmaker hopes to clarify his stance on how tips should be figured into servers' wages and distance himself from suggestions that restaurant staff would see pay cuts under proposals he favors. He accuses the media of misrepresenting his position.
"I have never made a proposal on tip credit," he said Tuesday. "I never said that we want to reduce employees wages."
Last Monday, Emmer toured a St. Paul restaurant and brought up the tip concept as a way to help business owners. He told reporters he supported a tip credit, which allows businesses to apply tips against a worker's hourly wage. Federal law allows states to set a minimum wage of $2.13 for tipped restaurant workers.
But Emmer wouldn't give details then about what kind of tip plan he would back as governor. Over the next week, Emmer insisted he wouldn't lower wages, and campaign advisers said a proposal could involve freezing the minimum wage for restaurant workers in the event of future increases to the pay floor.
Then on Tuesday, he proposed a plan that would exempt the first $20,000 in server tips from state income taxes. Emmer detailed the plan ahead of Wednesday's public forum at the Ol' Mexico Restaurante in St. Paul, where Emmer waited tables over the weekend.
Emmer also sought to explain an amendment he introduced in 2005 that would have eliminated Minnesota's minimum wage. Emmer, who at the time characterized his amendment as a "serious proposal," said in an interview Tuesday that he only wanted to spur discussion and knew it was unlikely to pass. The amendment was eventually pulled and didn't receive a vote.
While Emmer denied that the tip flap was a stumble, internal communications from his campaign staff left a different impression.
On Wednesday, Emmer research director David Strom accidentally sent pessimistic messages intended to be private on the social networking site Twitter.
"We know this is a problem. Today is the last day. Over. Done. No Mas. Just help us stay on message: courage and willingness to listen. DS," Strom wrote in one. In another, he said, "No more tip credit after today. We won't win the issue. DS."
Strom deleted the messages from his feed, and deputy campaign manager Bill Walsh downplayed them. "He works for us, but that wasn't us speaking," Walsh said. "He doesn't speak on behalf of the campaign."
Walsh said Strom thought he was communicating with someone about a possible newspaper commentary on the issue. Walsh didn't say whom Strom meant to reach.
Emmer's Democratic rivals are arguing for an increase in the minimum wage and say a tip provision would penalize workers. Three candidates -- Democrats Margaret Anderson Kelliher and Matt Entenza, and the Independence Party's Tom Horner -- on Tuesday criticized Emmer's proposal for tax-free tips as a gimmick meant to stem damage from his earlier remarks.