Democrats seek to win Arkansas with minimum wage platform

LITTLE ROCK (KATV) - A ballot initiative to increase minimum wage will be a major issue Democrats plan to pursue to win close elections in Arkansas in 2014.

"Arkansas Democrats will likely rally around the idea of raising the minimum wage and make it a key campaign issue in 2014," said a key Arkansas Democrat involved in running one of the 2014 campaigns.

A ballot initiative announced earlier this month by the group Give Arkansas a Raise Now proposes raising minimum wage in Arkansas from $6.25 an hour to $7.50 in 2015, $8.00 in 2016 and $8.50 in 2017.

In an interview with AETN journalist Steve Barnes Monday, incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor said he does not support the federal minimum wage proposal but he plans to support the initiative in Arkansas if it all comes together.

"There's a group in Arkansas working on this. I haven't seen all the details, but my understanding is, I think they take three years and gradually raise it up to $8.50 and it think that's a pretty reasonable approach. I think that would be good for Arkansas. I think that would be good for people in this state. We have a lot of minimum wage people in this state. I think it would be good and it would help the standard of living and what not, so if that does come together, I probably would support that," Pryor said.

The executive director for Give Arkansas A Raise Now, Stephen Copley, told Channel 7 News Monday the initiative is bi-partisan and they hope to see others supporting it.

"We're excited to hear that Sen. Pryor might be on the verge of endorsing, but we'd entertain support from any candidate to make sure Arkansans could achieve higher minimum wage," Copley said.

Give Arkansas A Raise Now is bi-partisan but plans to launch their web site next week, which will feature a section with organizations or candidates who have endorsed the ballot initiative.

To make it on the ballot, the wording must be approved by the attorney general and garner 62,000 signatures by June 30. Copley expects to hear back from the attorney general on the ballot wording by Thursday or early next week.{}

If{} the initiative makes it onto the official ballot, Democrats in Arkansas plan to get behind the cause, hoping to mobilize independents and bring a large contingent of liberal voters to the polls in November. Several Democratic sources with knowledge of the plan told Channel 7 News that Democrats have taken note of how well increasing minimum wage polls among crucial swing voters.

"It's an issue that will drive independents to the polls," said a person with comprehensive knowledge of the strategy.

In a recent poll released by Public Policy Polling, a liberal-leaning polling organization, a federal minimum wage increase to $10 dollars was supported by 52 percent of Arkansans. In the same poll, 47 percent said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports raising the minimum wage, compared to 29 percent who said they would be less likely and 20 percent who said it wouldn't make a difference.

In the Arkansas governor's race, Republican candidate Asa Hutchinson told Channel 7 News that he does not support the numbers proposed in the initiative.

"In regard to the minimum wage ballot initiative...I do not support an increase in the amounts set in the ballot initiative. {}I do believe the minimum wage needs to be increased and it should be considered when the General Assembly meets again. {}The amount of any increase should be based upon economic factors at that time," Hutchinson said.

A spokesperson for Democratic candidate Mike Ross said in a statement Ross is reviewing the issue.

"While in Congress, Mike Ross consistently voted to increase the minimum wage in support of Arkansas's working families. However, as many different issues try to get on the 2014 ballot, Mike Ross will carefully review each measure once it is certified and placed on the ballot."

Regardless of what Democratic campaigns are saying on the record about the issue now, once the initiative or one like it is certified on the ballot, Arkansas Democrats will make it a cornerstone of the 2014 elections.

"I know many of the people that are behind initiative who are pushing it forward and many of them feel it's the right time and the right thing," said a source with the Democratic Party.

You can watch Steve Barnes' full interview tonight at 6:30 p.m. on AETN.