Seeking to dispel the notion that "lower-income people don't work hard and don't pay taxes," Democratic congressional candidate Mary Headrick explained her support for raising the minimum wage in a Tuesday night speech.
"The current minimum wage is not enough to live on," she said. "If you have a family of three and you're out there 40 hours a week, working hard and digging ditches in Tennessee's red clay, I think you deserve a living wage so your wife and child can stay at home and you can support them."
Headrick favors a federal minimum wage raise from $7.25 to $10.16 per hour, though she expressed a willingness to negotiate on what she called "the pennies" as long as the hourly rate exceeds $10.
A Maynardville physician who said she makes more than $100,000 a year, Headrick is challenging Chattanooga Democrat Bill Taylor in their party's primary for Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District seat, which is currently occupied by U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, a Republican.
Headrick said raising the minimum wage should be a major national issue at a time when the 2010 U.S. census figures show that 48 percent of Americans are below the poverty line or otherwise low-income.
In a recent campaign video highlighting a modest upbringing, Fleischmann said he flipped McDonald's burgers in high school for $2.10 per hour.
But a spokesman Tuesday avoided a definitive answer when asked if the congressman believes in boosting private sector pay scales.
"Chuck believes if you work hard and pull yourself up by the bootstraps, that will go a lot farther than government mandates," Fleischmann campaign spokesman Jordan Powell said.
In an interview before her speech, Headrick said dairy executive and Republican challenger Scottie Mayfield energized her zeal for a minimum wage increase when he implied in a recent position paper that Medicaid and welfare recipients don't pay taxes.
Mayfield strategist Tommy Hopper recently defended the position paper in an interview with The Associated Press.
"Our specific words were taking from one taxpayer to give to the nontaxpayers," Hopper said, "and in the context of federal taxes, income taxes, this is overwhelmingly true."
Throughout her speech, Headrick said what state officials confirmed to the Chattanooga Times Free Press weeks ago -- that some of the 1.2 million Medicaid recipients in Tennessee are employed, meaning they routinely pay taxes into Social Security, Medicare and other federal programs.
Ron Bhalla is another Republican challenger, and independent candidate Matthew Deniston also is in the race. Primaries are Aug. 2.