- Associated Press - Saturday, September 6, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - With no organized opposition and business groups taking a pass on the issue, the proposal to gradually raise Arkansas’ minimum wage faces a potentially easy path to victory now that it’s on the November ballot. Whether that fortune can rub off on a Democratic Party that faces anything but an easy road is another matter.

The proposed initiated act’s approval for the ballot last week hands Democrats an issue that they hope to trumpet in the final two months of the election season. They’re trying to fend off Republican efforts to win a U.S. Senate seat and sweep other statewide offices, and Democratic Party officials say the proposal to raise the minimum wage from $6.25 an hour to $8.50 an hour by 2017 is one that appeals to a wide range of voters.

“It’s not just bringing Democrats out. It’s bringing everyone out,” state Democratic Party Chairman Vince Insalaco said last week.

Even the Republican candidates for governor and U.S. Senate have said they’ll support the increase.

Arkansas is one of three states with a minimum wage lower than the federal level of $7.25 an hour, while five other states haven’t established a minimum wage. Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, a nonprofit advocacy group, has said more than 168,000 workers in the state would benefit from the proposal.



There’s been little doubt how much Democrats are counting on the minimum wage proposal to boost turnout in November. At the party’s convention last month, nearly every single statewide and congressional nominee touted their support for the proposed initiated act as they cast themselves as champions of working families. The party’s delegates also approved a platform endorsing the minimum wage hike proposal.

U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, whose race against Republican challenger and U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton could decide which party controls the chamber, regularly brings up his support for the ballot measure and cited it as an issue his newly-formed “Women for Pryor” coalition would focus on. Democratic gubernatorial nominee Mike Ross regularly brings up his support too, as he runs against fellow ex-congressman Asa Hutchinson.

The state GOP hasn’t taken a position on the ballot measure, but Hutchinson and Cotton have said they’ll vote for it. Hutchinson had said he wants to see the minimum wage raised to at least the federal level but would prefer to see it done by the Legislature.

Republicans have also been quietly pushing back on the minimum wage criticism, noting that a proposal to raise the wage last year failed to advance out of a House committee that was majority Democrat.

The Democrats’ embrace of the minimum wage proposal closely mirrors the way Republicans embraced the constitutional amendment approved by voters a decade ago banning same-sex marriage. That strategy helped President George W. Bush easily win the state in his successful re-election bid.

It also helped underfunded Republican Senate nominee Jim Holt, who lost his bid to unseat then-Sen. Blanche Lincoln but still managed to win 44 percent of the vote after running almost exclusively on his support of the marriage amendment.

Unlike gay marriage, the minimum wage measure could face muted opposition over the next two months. No groups have formed to campaign against the measure, and the state Chamber of Commerce says it doesn’t plan to take a position on the issue.

Leaders of Give Arkansas a Raise Now, the group campaigning for the wage hike, say they’re not taking anything for granted and are working on a campaign strategy for the proposal over the coming weeks. They’re also sending questionnaires to candidates so they can show how much political support the measure has.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Steve Copley, the group’s chairman, said. Copley say people are working hard, playing by the rules and trying to live the American dream.

“…And they can’t make their paycheck go far enough. It’s that simple,” Copley said.

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Andrew DeMillo has covered Arkansas politics and government for The Associated Press since 2005. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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