Hutchinson, Cotton supporting ballot effort to increase Arkansas minimum wage

Associated Press

Two Republicans in races at the top of this fall's Arkansas ballot said Friday they would support an initiative to raise the state's minimum wage, throwing support behind a proposal that Democrats see as a way to attract their backers to the polls.

If approved, the proposal would move Arkansas' minimum wage from $6.25 to $8.50 by 2017.

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"I'm going to vote for that initiated act as a citizen," Rep. Tom Cotton, who is running for the U.S. Senate, said Friday in an interview on KHTE-FM. "As Arkansas' next U.S. senator, I'm going to make sure that we have a healthy economy, not the kind of minimum-wage economy that Barack Obama and Mark Pryor have created."

Former U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson, the GOP's candidate for governor, also supports the minimum-wage increase, his spokesman J.R. Davis said Friday.

Democrats accused the Republican candidates of favoring the ballot issue for political purposes only. Hutchinson had said he wanted legislators to address the issue, not voters, and Cotton said "empowering individuals and businesses" was a preferred way to grow the economy.

The secretary of state's office said Wednesday that supporters of the minimum-wage increase had collected enough signatures to place the proposal before voters this fall.

Well ahead of its approval, though, Democrats made it a key part of their campaigns. At their state convention last month, Democrats adopted the wage increase as part of their platform.

Democrats controlled Arkansas' political scene from Reconstruction to 2010, when Republicans made major gains as part of a backlash against — around here — an unpopular president. The GOP took control of the Legislature in 2012 and has already clinched control of the state Senate for 2015.

Should the Democratic slide continue and the party lose a majority of the state's seven constitutional offices, control of local election commissions would shift into Republican hands.

When announcing the effort, the group Give Arkansas a Raise Now noted Arkansas was one of four states with a minimum wage lower than the federal level of $7.25 per hour.

Two-term incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and former U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, running for governor as a Democrat, previously announced support for the increase. Pryor said he preferred a state wage of $8.50 over one of $10.10 proposed by the president. Cotton also opposed the president's plan and, until declaring his support for it today, had said since the spring he was studying the state proposal.

"Congressman Cotton clearly just read the political tea leaves and decided the best thing for his political ambitions is to tepidly support this ballot measure," said Pryor spokesman Erik Dorey.

Hutchinson said earlier in the campaign he preferred that legislators address the minimum wage because it's more difficult for lawmakers to subsequently amend an initiated act — taking a two-thirds vote.

Ross spokesman Brad Howard said Hutchinson had changed his mind "in a desperate attempt to win an election."

Hutchinson's stand was first reported by the website Talk Business. Cotton spoke to radio host Alice Stewart on KHTE.