CHAMBER OF COMMERCE 'NEMESIS' Little Rock lawyer David Couch.

The Washington Post focuses on Arkansas voters’ increase in the minimum wage and leadership by lawyer David Couch as part of an article predicting more investment in progressive ballot initiatives.

A petition drive backed by wealthy liberal contributors powered a phased-in increase in the Arkansas minimum wage, the first taking effect Jan. 1, from $8.50 to $9.25 an hour. Arkansas is one of 19 states with a wage increase this year, but notable because of its position in the deep-red Trumpian South with a legislature and business community disinclined to support populist progressive policy.


The success, says the article, validates a liberal push to bypass legislatures with ballot initiatives. Such efforts are precisely why the business lobby in Arkansas has attempted to make ballot measures hard to qualify and why Attorney General Leslie Rutledge systematically slapped all the proposals down until the Arkansas Supreme Court intervened. From the article:

A big progressive push is underway for 2020 to use ballot initiatives to raise state minimum wages even higher — up to $15 — and expand Medicaid health coverage. After the success in midterm elections, liberal organizers say the money, campaign infrastructure and votes are there to make this happen.With the federal minimum wage stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009, liberal activists now see ballot initiatives as a key tool to advance their economic agenda.

They are finding that voters, even in red states such as Arkansas, will overwhelmingly check “yes” when progressive policies to help the poor appear on the ballot.

Thanks first to Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe and some realistic Republicans, Arkansas has expanded Medicaid and now it has increased the minimum wage. Next on the popular agenda for Arkansas is likely a ballot measure to fight gerrymandering of legislative and congressional districts through  a bipartisan, non-political commission. The Republican legislature would never approve. The voters might.


Little Rock lawyer David Couch, a frequent player in ballot drives, including the minimum wage and medical marijuana, is quoted extensively in the article, which details the strategy he used and help he found from outside sources with the wage proposal.

Arkansas Republicans refer to Couch as a “nemesis” and “absolute wacko,” while Democrats celebrate him as something akin to a progressive Batman. He sees himself as a grass-roots campaigner who’s giving power back to voters.

Success begets enemies.


“David Couch is a thorn in my side. I no longer underestimate him,” said Randy Zook, president of the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce.

The business lobby sued unsuccessfully to knock the wage increase off the ballot. It was also busy trying to make it difficult for people damaged by nursing homes and hospitals to sue.

The Post article also quotes Couch as considering a Medicaid-related initiative for 2020.