- Associated Press - Friday, September 5, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - 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.

“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, said in an interview that he, too, would vote to raise the minimum wage.

“I’ve said from Day One that we needed to raise the minimum wage. The debate has been, ‘What is the process for getting there?” Hutchinson told The Associated Press.

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.

Hutchinson said that, if voters pass the initiated act, legislators will need a two-thirds vote to make any changes later. If the Legislature passed an increase, members could tweak the law with a simple majority.

“If it is going to be on the ballot, I’ve got to vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ on it,” Hutchinson said. He said he would vote “Yes.”

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, 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.

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

Hutchinson said he had already spoken in favor of raising the minimum wage while Ross was still weighing the question, rejecting suggestions by the Democrats’ campaign that he had flip-flopped.

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

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