When Rep. Elaine Luria (D., Va.) ran for office in 2018, she presented herself as a small business owner who understood the economic risk of a uniform minimum wage hike: It would "cause risk to my business and other businesses," she said then.
In her first year in office, however, Luria sold her small business—and abandoned her opposition to a one-size-fits-all $15 minimum wage.
Luria sold the Mermaid Factory, a design-your-own-craft shop, on July 1, 2019, according to her financial disclosures. Just 17 days later, Luria voted for legislation that would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour across the country, a move she just a year earlier said would "cause risk" to businesses.
The vote was a stark reversal from Luria's position as a candidate, when she leaned on her experience as a small business owner to argue that, while the minimum wage of $7.25 was unacceptable, any increase would have to be gradual and take into consideration that "different areas of the country have different costs of living."
"I think that as a business owner as well, an immediate jump in the minimum wage could cause risk to my business and to other businesses, so I think that a gradual raise in the minimum wage, indexed to inflation, is essential," Luria said during a 2018 candidate forum. "We need to look at that based off of different areas of the country have different costs of living."
Luria's reversal came as increasing the minimum wage emerged as a Democratic priority in the House. Self-styled moderates have been pushed to jettison objections to the federal wage hike—the very positions that helped them get elected in previously Republican-held districts—to stay in line with party leadership.
For Luria, it's both a reversal of policy and her own business practices. According to her own admission, Luria paid workers less than $15 an hour. During the same candidate forum, Luria bragged about paying her staff nearly twice the current minimum wage of $7.25, which, according to a Washington Free Beacon analysis, is less than $15.
"The $7.25 minimum wage that we have today is criminal," Luria said. "I've never paid any of my employees that amount. Most of them make almost twice that, if not more."
Neither Luria nor the Mermaid Factory responded to a request for comment.
In 2019, Luria became a cosponsor of the Democrats' Raise the Wage Act, which explicitly ignores the localized conditions that Luria pledged to consider. Earlier this year, she once again voted in support of the federal $15 minimum wage, which was included in the COVID relief bill passed by the House.
Luria often pivoted back to her experience as a small business owner during her first campaign, pledging to be a voice for business interests in her district. "Washington just isn't listening to Coastal Virginia's small business owners," she said in October 2018. "If you send me to Congress, I'll change that."
Local business owners say Luria is breaking that promise. Glenn Davis, the owner of OnCall Telecom International in Virginia Beach, said Luria "turned her back" on Virginia's business community.
"Elaine Luria said that she understood the challenges of small businesses and understood the need for a balanced approach," said Davis, who is also a Republican state delegate, "but once being elected, very quickly turned her back on those small businesses."
Republicans have made clear they will dedicate resources to unseat Luria, who narrowly won reelection in 2020 against Scott Taylor, whom she also beat in 2018.
Republican state senator Jen Kiggans, a former Navy pilot who launched her campaign against Luria this week, indicated that she will target Lauria's reversal during her campaign.
"She knew how damaging a federal wage hike would be to Virginia business owners, but instead of protecting them from this job-killing legislation, she protected herself," Kiggans said. "We need a representative in Congress who understands the consequences of their votes and the lasting impact they will have on small businesses, our economy, and our future."