- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 24, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Secretary of State Mark Martin asked the Arkansas Supreme Court on Wednesday to dismiss a lawsuit from a Little Rock businessman who is trying to keep off the November ballot a measure to raise the state’s minimum wage.

Martin asked justices to dismiss the lawsuit filed Monday by Jackson T. Stephens Jr., who is challenging the validity of the signatures submitted in support of the measure and the deadline the state used for accepting petitions. Martin’s office earlier this month placed the proposal, which would raise Arkansas’ minimum wage from $6.25 an hour to $8.50 an hour by 2017, on the Nov. 4 ballot.

In Wednesday’s filing, Martin argued that it’s too late to remove the proposal.

“Some of the relief sought by petitioners cannot be guaranteed due to impossibility and illegality of performance, because the ballots for the Nov. 4, 2014 general election have been printed and it is too late to remove an initiative proposal from the ballot,” the filing said.

Give Arkansas a Raise Now, the group campaigning for the measure, asked the court in a separate filing to allow it to intervene in the case. In its proposed filing, the group also asks the court to deny Stephens’ challenge.

Stephens is the son of Jackson T. Stephens Sr., the co-founder of investment firm Stephens Inc. He’s also the chairman of the conservative Club for Growth’s board.

Election officials earlier this month said that supporters had submitted the 62,507 signatures required from registered voters. Stephens’ suit challenges the validity of those signatures, and he’s asking the court to appoint a special master to review evidence in the case.

The lawsuit makes the same argument about the petition deadline as a challenge against a separate ballot measure that would legalize alcohol sales in all 75 Arkansas counties. Both lawsuits argue the petitions should have been submitted four months before the Nov. 4 election, or July 4, rather than the July 7 deadline used by the state.

Stephens said Wednesday that the bulk of his challenge is focused on the signatures.

“Ninety-nine percent of my complaint is about the improper signature-gathering process and the fraud that potentially occurred,” he said.

Democrats have been pushing the wage increase and touting it as a way to boost turnout in the November election. The party’s top candidates, including Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor and gubernatorial nominee Mike Ross, endorsed the measure earlier this year, and the state party adopted the increase as part of its platform over the summer.

Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, who is trying to unseat Pryor, and GOP gubernatorial nominee Asa Hutchinson both said they planned to vote for the measure after it was certified for the November ballot.

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Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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