Columns » Max Brantley

GOP rule No. 1: Win

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The Republican Party's devotion to principle was on display last week. After months of opposition to a proposed initiated act to raise the Arkansas minimum wage, Republican gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson flip-flopped to say he'd vote for the measure.

Then came a GOP tidal wave, including Republican Rep. Tom Cotton, a candidate for U.S. Senate, and U.S. Reps. Rick Crawford and Tim Griffin, the latter a candidate for lieutenant governor.

Two factors contributed to this sudden warmth for low-wage men and women:

The measure qualified for the ballot last week. It will raise the current minimum of $6.25 to $8.50 by 2017. Significantly, the first bump, to $7.50, would put Arkansas ahead of the federal minimum wage. The state wage, which covers small businesses exempt from the federal wage, typically lags behind the federal level.

Polls show overwhelming support, even among Republican voters.

The Arkansas Democratic Party has been running on its candidates' support for the minimum wage for months.

In short, the GOP guiding principle — say anything to win — came into play.

Hutchinson had once said raising the rate beyond $7.25 could be devastating to the Arkansas economy. Cotton had been trying to finesse the issue (he was studying it, he said for months). But he's a devoted anti-regulation Club for Growth acolyte. He hates the federal minimum wage and any government intervention that makes life less punishing for low-paid workers.

Hutchinson attempted to cover his cave-in by saying the ballot initiative was "in line" with his support for increasing the minimum wage. Untrue. He'd specifically objected to moving the wage beyond the federal minimum.

Cotton revealed his support in a fleeting sentence — amid the usual vituperation for President Obama — in the friendly setting of Republican Alice Stewart's radio talk show. "As a citizen," he said, he'd support the measure but continue to oppose Obama's "minimum wage economy." Questions: 1) When is Cotton NOT a citizen? 2) Where does he get his research? The number of minimum wage workers has declined on Obama's watch.

Other Republicans will join the parade. I suspect the election eve conversions will be more valuable to Republicans than the justified flip-flopping charge leveled by Democrats.

Credit state Rep. Bruce Westerman, the 4th District GOP nominee, for blind devotion to a flawed philosophy. He still opposes the minimum wage increase. Democratic opponent James Lee Witt endorses it.

Westerman's clarity is the sort of extremism that Tom Cotton normally exhibits — on food stamps, Children's Hospital money, medical research, farm supports, disaster aid and more.

I've saved the best for last — J. French Hill, the self-proclaimed ninth-generation Arkansan and millionaire banker who portrays himself as a poor boy in TV ads with boasts about the old Volvo he drives to play golf at the exclusive Country Club of Little Rock or haul his kids off to an expensive blueblood summer camp in Texas.

The 2nd District congressional candidate managed to get quoted on both sides. He seemed conditionally in support of the minimum wage increase — "if he can ensure it doesn't negatively impact Arkansas jobs" — in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. But he was opposed to the ballot measure in Stephens Media's report. His campaign wouldn't respond to my effort to clarify. Pat Hays, the Democrat facing Hill, supports it.

Hill couldn't let the quote opportunity pass without hitting Obama and an economy "squeezing the middle class."

Poor ol' French. He just sold a bank to a bigger bank (which likely will mean a net job reduction) in a deal worth $4 million to him alone — and his capital gains and deferred compensation loot are unencumbered by the higher income tax rates paid by hourly toilers.

Imagine what he'd made if not for that turrible Obama economy.

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