Monday, October 27, 2014

UPDATE: Arkansas Supreme Court clears vote on minimum wage increase

Posted By on Mon, Oct 27, 2014 at 4:10 PM

click to enlarge LOSER: Millionaire Jackson T. Stephens Jr. loses bid to block vote on minimum wage increase in Arkansas.
  • LOSER: Millionaire Jackson T. Stephens Jr. loses bid to block vote on minimum wage increase in Arkansas.
The Arkansas Supreme Court today cleared a vote on a proposal to increase the minimum wage in Arkansas.

It denied a petition by millionaire Jackson T. Stephens, a leader of the Club for Growth, to disqualify the proposed intitiative for problems with the signature canvassing process and an alleged late filing of the petition.

There were no dissents to the opinion dismissing Stephens' complaint. The opinion was written by Associate Justice Paul Danielson.

Here's the opinion.
The court found no merit in Stephens' arguments. He issued a statement in the evening that characterized the decision in a headline on a news release as "embracing and institutionalizing fraud" in the initiated act process.

The proposed initiated act would increase the state's minimum wage of $6.25 an hour to $8.50 by 2017. Labor organizations and Democrats were prominent in the Give Arkansas a Raise Now effort. The idea is popular among all voters and Democrats hoped it would be a good issue for candidates. Even most Republicans have come around reluctantly to a state increase — which would cover some 100,000 workers — if not to a federal increase. A noted holdout is J. French Hill, the millionaire Little Rock banker running as a Republican for 2nd District Congress, who has declined to take a position yet on the state proposal. He opposes a federal minimum wage.

The Supreme Court had already made clear Stephens would fail on a challenge based on a late filing. In the case of an alcohol sales amendment, the court said secretary of state Mark Martin had acted properly in extending the deadline from July 4, a state holiday, to July 7, the next business day.

The court had appointed a special master to consider Stephens' complaint about insufficient signatures and irregularities in the petition process. The master said the initial submission met the requirement of 62,507 signatures "facially." The master noted forged notary signatures on some of the petition forms, but said additional signatures gathered during the 30-day "cure" period allowed when petitions are facially satisfied more than met the signature requirement. The Supreme Court upheld that finding and said Stephens failed in his argument that notary problems should have knocked down the facial finding on the initial count.

On Stephens' complaint that the facial count had not been satisfied because of forged notary signatures (not forged voter signatures), the court said court precedent required it to determine if there was facially a sufficient number of signatures and a sufficient number from each of 15 counties. "We hold that it did and therefore the grant of the cure period was proper."

The court added, "While a number of signatures were later disqualified by the secretary of state after the initial count, GARN's petitions contained more than the sufficient number of signatures at the time of the filing and was 'therefore prima facie sufficient' [quoting from a past case]. Because it was prima facie sufficient, correction or amendment was permitted under Amendment 7 if the signatures became insufficient after the disqualification of signatures, which it did."

Stephens cited several instances in which signatures had been disqualified for forgeries and other discrepancies. But the court said there was an important distinction between the cases he cited and this one. The other cases were made with respect to final certification to the ballot. This case was about the initial facial certification. That's not the law, the court said. "While Stephens would have this court hold that fraud is an appropriate consideration for purposes of the initial-count determination, it simply is not. The initial count is just that — an initial count of the signatures submitted at the time of filing and prior to any signature verification."

The court concluded that neither of Stephens' claims was meritorious and denied his petition to remove the measure from the ballot. It appeared on ballots as early voting began last week. Had the Supreme Court ruled for Stephens, no votes would have been counted.

An attorney for GARN, David Couch, has said all along that the important thing to consider were signatures of voters.

UPDATE: Stephens issued this statement through his lawyer David Sterling:

“We are very disappointed in this decision.” Stephens said. “Today, the Arkansas Supreme Court unanimously stated that ‘While Stephens would have this court hold that fraud is an appropriate consideration for the purposes of the initial-count determination, it is not,’” Stephens said, quoting from the decision.

“It is shameful that, according to our Supreme Court, fraud is not a consideration in this matter of public trust, and now the whole ballot initiative process is open to fraud. It is even more shocking that there wasn’t a single dissent, indicating that all 7 justices embraced this decision and its long-term implications on future generations,” remarked Stephens

“Decisions like this are the reasons that I chaired the Merit Selection Committee of the Arkansas Bar Association in the mid-1980s. As a political consideration, a change to a merit selection process was not possible then, and is probably not possible now. But, a judicial-recall provision as an initiated act is the most appropriate response to this and other shocking judicial decisions Arkansans have been subjected to this year,” stated Stephens.

Two things: One, he's not exactly right about embracing fraud. The Court said clearly that measures could be denied the ballot for that reason. Two, he's right about merit selection. But he'll soon have cause to laud the Supreme Court majority that owes seats to corporate interest investors like himself.

Sen. Mark Pryor chimed in quickly with a note that the Club for Growth was the single biggest contributor to opponent Tom Cotton's first congressional campaign. Said Pryor:

"This decision was the right one for hardworking Arkansas families, and now it’s up to voters to turn out and support a pay raise for 170,000 families struggling to make ends meet. I was glad to be the first elected official to endorse the minimum wage ballot initiative, and we’ll know on November 4th if enough voters agree it’s the right thing for our state.”

GARN will be hiring canvassers to work for the initiative. Young people needed there and at the polls. If they get out in numbers to vote for beer statewide (which they will do if they vote), that influence could  trickle down on other issues.

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