Arkansas’ minimum wage on the ballot

In an election year filled with hotly debated issues, a proposal to raise Arkansas’ minimum wage has so far drawn no organized opposition and has united the major-party candidates in Arkansas’ top two political races.

The proposed initiated act, which was certified last week for the November 4 ballot, would raise the state’s minimum wage gradually from $6.25 per hour to $8.50 per hour by 2017. Democratic candidates for statewide offices have generally supported the measure and made it a campaign issue.

Republican Senate candidate Tom Cotton and Republican gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson both said they planned to vote for the measure. Their statements came after months of heckling from their Democratic opponents, incumbent Senator Mark Pryor and Mike Ross, respectively.

Hal Bass, a political science professor at Ouachita Baptist University said it appears that Cotton and Hutchinson “want to deflect any advantage the Democrats might get from a perceived difference between the parties and candidates on an issue that appears to be pretty popular in Arkansas.”
A Talk Business-Hendrix College poll conducted in April found that 79 percent of likely Arkansas voters said they supported the minimum-wage proposal. The support extended across political lines, with 92 percent of Democrats, 64 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of independent voters saying they would vote “yes” if the election were held then. Bass said Cotton and Hutchinson have not been enthusiastic about supporting the measure, but given its popularity, they likely have concluded it is risky to oppose and would prefer to go after Democrats on other issues especially the unpopularity in Arkansas of Democratic President Barack Obama.

“Republicans perceive the landscape tilting generally in their favor, and they don’t want to sacrifice that advantage they perceive over something like this,” Bass said.

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