An initiated act to raise the state minimum wage qualified for the November ballot last week and instantly became a defining political issue.
A group of do-gooders drew on labor and a progressive hedge funder's money to pay for a hurry-up paid canvassing campaign to put the initiated act on the ballot. It would raise the current $8.50-per-hour minimum in stages to $11 by 2021.
The campaign was given only a few weeks to gather petitions because Republican Attorney General Leslie Rutledge had adopted a policy to block all popular initiatives. The Arkansas Supreme Court said she'd taken her duties too far and lifted her blockade.
Her resistance to the minimum wage proposal was political, not legal. The proposal changes only in amount the last minimum wage ballot proposal. How could it be misinterpreted? When Rutledge finally sent one of the proposals she'd received forward, she chose one with an $11 cap rather than a $12 cap.
She might have done backers of an increase a favor. The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, which represents the corporate and moneyed interests, has indicated it will sue to try to knock the question off the ballot for signature deficiencies. Meanwhile, it has begun the usual (unsupported) sloganeering about how paying a living wage is bad for the economy and complaining that the proposal puts Arkansas out of line with other, cheaper states.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette sampled some politicians after the issue made the ballot. It boiled down simply: Democrats favor the minimum wage increase, Republicans don't.
Specifically quoted in favor were Jared Henderson, the candidate for governor; Mike Lee, attorney general; and Clarke Tucker, 2nd District Congress.
Republican Governor Hutchinson said he wasn't ready to declare, though he did say he thought raising the minimum wage by popular initiative was a bad idea in general. He'd rather the work be left to the Republican legislature.
Henderson reminded voters that Asa opposed the last increase before he was for it in his race against Mike Ross. Democrat Ross, as a centerpiece of his campaign, ran hard on a wage proposal that won a smashing ballot box victory, but Ross did not.
Leslie Rutledge dodged the question in serving some word salad about the duties of her office. U.S. 2nd District Rep. French Hill ran and hid when queried by the Democrat-Gazette, offering no comment at all.
Should any Democrat like to oppose the wage increase or should any Republican like to express support, please call me. Otherwise, I'm sticking with my prediction on how this lines up. Democrats will be a loud AYE! Republicans who aren't noisily opposed to the idea will be praying the corporate lobby will provide cover by killing the measure. Meanwhile, they'll dodge the question, a la Asa.
The tougher questions are 1) does a wage increase remain as popular as it was in 2014 and 2) does a candidate's position matter much to voters?
I hope voters will think about how a family of four gets by on less than $18,000 a year — current minimum wage for those lucky enough to have a full-time job and work 52 weeks a year. I hope they'll think unkindly of those who don't sympathize with the working poor.
But we often vote against our interests in Arkansas. Sometimes, though, we eventually come around. See Obamacare.