In other states, Democratic politicians would leap to endorse a proposed constitutional amendment that would raise the state minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.15 an hour and provide periodic adjustments for inflation. It’s their party that supposedly represents the people who work in sweat shops. The other party represents the people who own the sweat shops.

In Arkansas, Attorney General Mike Beebe, the leading Democratic candidate for governor, frets that the proposed amendment is “too specific” to be placed in the state Constitution. The minimum wage should be raised by statute instead, he says.

This position might have merit, except that the legislature is not inclined to raise the minimum wage, which is another way of saying that the legislature is inclined to do what the Chamber of Commerce tells it. The legislators turned back a minimum-wage bill just last year. Beebe knows this. He was a longtime legislative leader before joining the executive branch, and as a legislative leader, he enjoyed warm friendships with the Big Business types who oppose minimum-wage increases.

That he is now publicly suggesting reasons for voters not to support the minimum-wage amendment suggests that he is still awfully close to these corporate interests. They can easily defeat another minimum-wage bill in the legislature, even one with Governor Beebe’s ostensible support. Defeating a minimum-wage amendment in a popular election would be more difficult. (Though not impossible. Arkansans have shown an uncanny knack for voting against their own best interests, as with the Term Limits Amendment.) The Arkansas Plutocrat-Gazette, always willing to wage class warfare, applauded Beebe for his statement, marveled that a top Democrat could be so like a Republican, and theorized that Beebe’s legal training had caused his “common-sense counsel” to pop out involuntarily. Not likely. Beebe is the least spontaneous politician in a five-state area. Things do not “pop out” with Beebe. They emerge after the most careful and cold-blooded consideration.

The P-G went on to make the discredited argument that raising the minimum wage causes widespread unemployment. This is a favorite theory of conservative ideologues. That it has been disproved every time the minimum wage has been raised in this country does not lessen their affection for it.

Many people in Arkansas toil for minimum wage. Some try to support families on it. For Democrats, raising the minimum wage should be what the evangelicals call a “salt and light” issue, one that does not allow for legalistic nit-picking. The other Democratic candidate for governor, Bill Halter, has collected signatures for the minimum-wage amendment. He knows what party he belongs to. That’s almost a minimum requirement for someone seeking a party nomination.


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