While the country watched voters in state after state elect Republicans on Tuesday, voters in many of those states also approved increases to the minimum wage that the newly-elected Republicans vehemently opposed as harmful to businesses’ bottom line.
Some successful GOP candidates have stood firmly against a federal minimum wage, joining billionaire donors in casting the overwhelmingly popular measure as bad for the stagnant economy, despite years of evidence to the contrary.
Alaskan voters approved raising the minimum wage by 69-31 percent—the largest margin by any of the states that approved an increase to the minimum wage on Election Day.
Alaska’s minimum wage will be increased from $7.75 per hour to $8.75 per hour beginning January 1. In 2016 the minimum wage will be boosted again to $9.75 per hour, and every year after, it will be adjusted for inflation or increased by $1 over the federal minimum wage—whichever is higher.
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Supporters of raising the minimum wage had made the argument that Alaska’s high cost of living made it difficult for people working in minimum wage jobs to afford basic needs such as housing, food, and health care.
Opponents claimed that raising the state’s minimum wage would further increase the cost of living and cause job losses.
U.S. Sen. Mark Begich (D) supported raising the state’s minimum wage and his Republican opponent Dan Sullivan initially opposed the minimum wage increase. Sullivan later changed course to support the measure. Votes are still being counted in Alaska, but Sullivan leads Begich, who, as of Thursday afternoon, had yet to concede.
Arkansas’ $6.25 per hour minimum wage—lower than the federal minimum wage—will be increased to $7.50 per hour on January 1. It will increase twice more, to $8 per hour on January 1, 2016, and to $8.50 per hour in 2017.
Steve Copley, chairman of the organization supporting the measure, Give Arkansas A Raise Now, said that supporters were energized by the overwhelming support for a wage increase. “We’re excited that hard-working Arkansans will be able to get a raise in their minimum wages come Jan. 1,” Copley told the Arkansas News.
Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor (D) supported increasing the minimum wage, and criticized his opponent, Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Dardanelle), for his lack of support for the measure. Despite voting against increasing the federal minimum wage, Cotton announced his support for raising it in the state. Cotton defeated Pryor Tuesday.
The Club for Growth, an organization that campaigns for far-right candidates, endorsed Cotton and contributed $546,000 to his campaign while running attack ads against Pryor. The most ardent opponent of raising the minimum wage in the state was Little Rock billionaire businessman Jackson T. Stephens, who is board chairman for the Club for Growth.
Nebraska voters approved raising the minimum wage by a 59-41 percent margin. It marks the first time the state has set the minimum wage above the federally mandated minimum wage.
The minimum wage will be increased from $7.25 per hour to $8.00 per hour on January 1, and then increase to $9 per hour at the start of 2016.
State Sen. Danielle Conrad, the Initiative 425 campaign director, told the Omaha World-Herald that the victory was history-making and unifying. “Raising the minimum wage is an issue that unified Nebraskans,” Conrad said.
Conservatives who have long undermined local, state, and national efforts to boost the minimum wage dismissed Tuesday’s results as a case of voters lacking even basic understanding of sound economic policy.
Jim Vokal of the Platte Institute, which opposed increase, told the World-Herald that the increase passed in Nebraska and in other states on Election Day because voters did not understand the issue. “I just don’t think that people understand the long-term effects of this, but history will tell,” Vokal said.
Republican Pete Ricketts was elected as the state’s new governor on Tuesday. Ricketts, the founder of the Platte Institute, opposed the ballot measure to raise the minimum wage. He claims the wage increase will hurt the working poor through payroll cuts, even though study after study has shown that wage increases have no impact on employment levels.
Nebraska’s senator-elect Republican Ben Sasse also opposed raising the minimum wage. “There will be some small number of folks who will get a slight pay raise, but there will be a whole bunch of people who lose their jobs,” Sasse told the World-Herald.
South Dakota voters approved raising the minimum wage by a 55-45 percent margin. Among the states with a minimum wage increase on the ballot, South Dakota passed the increase by the smallest margin. Voters who supported the measure thought low-income workers deserved a raise, while those who opposed it worried about the increased cost to businesses, the Argus Leader reported.
The minimum wage there will increase from $7.25 to $8.50 per hour beginning January 1, and increase each year after to adjust for inflation. Workers who earn wages through tips will also see a wage increase, from $2.13 to $4.25 per hour.
On Tuesday, voters also elected the state’s former governor, Republican Mike Rounds, to the U.S. Senate, replacing retiring Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson. Rounds opposed the state ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage because the minimum will be increased yearly to match the cost of living.