The minimum wage issue in Senate races, and why Tom Cotton and Asa Hutchinson choose not to take a principled stand | Arkansas Blog

Monday, September 29, 2014

The minimum wage issue in Senate races, and why Tom Cotton and Asa Hutchinson choose not to take a principled stand

Posted By on Mon, Sep 29, 2014 at 9:21 AM

Greg Sargent of the Washington Post reports on Joni Ernst, the GOP candidate in a tough battle for a U.S. Senate seat in Iowa: 

At last night’s Iowa Senate debate, however, Ernst gave Democrats a gift by revealing her actual position on the minimum wage with useful clarity: She opposes any federal minimum wage and doesn’t favor a hike in the state wage.

Here in Arkansas, the day after a ballot initiative to increase the minimum wage to $8.50 was approved in Arkansas, Senate candidate Rep. Tom Cotton, in what appeared to be a transparent election-year ploy, said he will vote "as a citizen" for the state wage hike (GOP gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson, who had previously explicitly stated opposition to the ballot initiative, did the same).  

The political strategy here is clear enough — the state wage hike is incredibly popular in Arkansas and Cotton and Hutchinson don't want to take heat for opposing it. Sargent explains the risk that Ernst is taking in standing in opposition to a state wage hike (note: Ernst also opposes a federal wage hike, as does Cotton and Cotton's opponent, Sen. Mark Pryor): 

Some analysts have concluded that Ernst did generally did well at the debate and that Braley didn’t do her enough damage. Still, the question is whether Democrats can use her minimum wage answer to their advantage in the days and weeks ahead. 

Cotton has no interest in taking that risk. Yesterday I pointed out that Cotton was being transparently cynical in taking a politically expedient position that he almost certainly doesn't believe. Some Republicans have complained to me that they're "damned if they do, damned if they don't" on this issue. To the contrary. I applaud Cotton and Hutchinson for voting for the minimum wage hike! Just don't tell me it's principled. In the case of Cotton — who has built an entire campaign as someone who does the "hard right rather than the easy wrong" and who often defended unpopular votes on the extreme wing of the anti-government Tea Party Right as principled stands — it seems fair to point out that in this case, he has caved and gone with the politically wise but ideologically unscrupulous play. 

Ernst, for whatever reason, made a different calculation. Will Tea Partiers denounce Cotton for blasphemy? Doubtful. Here in Arkansas, Republican politicians are under a gag order. Here's the email from House Majority Leader Ken Bragg to caucus members and GOP candidates (first reported by conservative blogger Caleb Taylor): 

As you probably heard yesterday, Asa (Hutchinson) and several of our statewide and federal candidates announced they will be supporting the minimum wage proposal. We should stand behind these candidates and not let this be a distraction. I know each of us has our own thought toward this issue, but as Jeremy mentioned in the caucus meeting, we need a united front going in to the general election. Our focus instead should be executing our J.O.B.S. plan to create higher paying employment opportunities for those now in a minimum wage position. Let’s stay on message about creating more opportunities through a growing economy.

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