Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., attends the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., Thursday, March 14, 2013.
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Cotton backs hike on minimum wage, but only ‘as a citizen’

Updated
Voters in Arkansas will vote this fall on a statewide minimum-wage increase, and given the polls, the proposal is expected to pass fairly easily. For months, Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has refused to say what he thinks of the ballot measure – it’s a state issue, he’s argued, and he’s a federal lawmaker.
 
Under the circumstances, Cotton’s evasiveness offered a pretty strong hint: he didn’t want to announce his opposition to a popular idea before the election, but the congressman also didn’t want to betray his far-right ideology.
 
So he’s trying to thread a needle.
Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said Friday that, as a “citizen,” he will vote in favor of a ballot initiative that would gradually raise the minimum wage in Arkansas.
 
“I’m going to vote for that initiated act as a citizen,” Cotton, who is running to unseat Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), said Friday on the Alice Stewart radio show.
The campaign hasn’t defined the “as a citizen” qualifier, but in context, I suspect Cotton’s trying to draw a distinction between how he’d vote in Congress and how he’d vote at his local Arkansas precinct. The conservative Republican will apparently vote for a wage hike “as a citizen,” but he’ll vote against minimum-wage increases as a lawmaker.
 
Whether voters find the distinction satisfying remains to be seen.
 
That said, let’s not miss the larger context: Cotton is in the middle of a tough fight in a Southern red state, and to get ahead, he’s going to great lengths to obscure details of his far-right agenda.
 
The Arkansas Republican isn’t just endorsing a statewide minimum-wage increase, he’s also trying to position himself as a champion of Medicare’s socialized-insurance program. Cotton continues to vehemently oppose the Affordable Care Act, naturally, but when asked about scrapping Medicaid expansion under the ACA, the congressman dodges – knowing that his position would push many voters away.
 
We’re seeing similar situations elsewhere. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is starting to hedge on the minimum wage; he’s pretending to support the Violence Against Women Act; and he’s run TV ads boasting about using government programs to help bring health care access to struggling families.
 
And Kentucky, like Arkansas, is a southern red state.
 
Rep. Cory Gardner (R), a far-right Senate candidate in Colorado, is pretending to be a pro-contraception environmentalist. Thom Tillis, a very conservative Senate candidate in North Carolina, is doing his best to obscure his agenda, too.
 
As we discussed on Wednesday, for all the talk about the United States being a center-right nation, and this being a terrific year for conservative Republicans, the fact remains that quite a few statewide candidates have decided to move away from the far-right cliff in the hopes of avoiding defeat. It says something important about the state of contemporary conservatism.
 

Arkansas, Minimum Wage and Tom Cotton

Cotton backs hike on minimum wage, but only 'as a citizen'

Updated