Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dan Sullivan says he will vote for a state initiative to increase Alaska's minimum wage to $9.75 an hour by 2016, after saying before the Aug. 19 primary election that he was opposed to the change.
Sullivan told the Wall Street Journal in a story published Monday that he still opposed a proposal backed by President Barack Obama, a Democrat, to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour -- a measure that's also backed by Sullivan's opponent, incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Begich.
A spokesman for Sullivan told the Journal that the candidate's position had changed because he "had a chance to read the minimum wage initiative."
Spokesman Mike Anderson said in a phone interview that he had not discussed Sullivan's original position with the candidate and referred the Alaska Dispatch News to a prepared statement for further explanation of the switch.
"Now, because it is a state-driven initiative, I do support the motion to place a minimum wage question directly to the people of Alaska," Sullivan was quoted as saying. "And I personally intend to vote for it. We also need to continue with policies that support our state's energy sector, make our tax system more competitive and streamline state and federal regulations, and I'm proud of my record of working with my fellow Alaskans to do just that."
In a follow-up phone call, Anderson said Sullivan had switched his position after traveling across the state and talking to Alaskans, but he declined to characterize the information Sullivan had received that led him to change his mind.
Sullivan had previously addressed his opposition to the state initiative at a Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce event in August, where he and two other Republican Party primary candidates were each asked to say how they planned to vote on the three initiatives on the November ballot. Sullivan, along with opponent Joe Miller, said he'd be voting "no" on the minimum-wage question. The third Republican participant, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, declined to take a position based on his role overseeing public hearings on the ballot initiatives.
Sullivan had also stated his opposition to a federal measure at least two times, telling The Associated Press in January that "simply raising the minimum wage isn't an answer; it's an acknowledgement of President Obama's broken promises and failed economic policies."
"Burdensome federal regulations continue to shackle Alaska's potential to grow jobs and provide security to countless middle-class families across the country," The Associated Press quoted Sullivan as saying.
In a pair of statements Monday, the Alaska AFL-CIO -- the state's largest labor group and a strong initiative backer -- and the Alaska Democratic Party both blasted Sullivan for "flip-flopping."
The AFL-CIO's statement cited strong public support for the initiative, which in a poll conducted in late July and early August led 58 to 33 percent, with 8 percent of voters still undecided.
"Dan Sullivan appears to be able to read polls and knows that opposition to the wage increase might have helped him in a closed primary, but it hurts his appeal to general election voters," the AFL-CIO's statement quoted its president, Vince Beltrami, as saying.