Hours after former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney called for an increase in the minimum wage, Neel Kashkari, one of the party’s top candidates for governor of California, said such a move would be devastating to workers.
The timing of the clash was awkward for Kashkari, a former investment banker from Laguna Beach. Romney is one of the Republican luminaries – including former Govs. Pete Wilson of California and Jeb Bush of Florida – whose support Kashkari has featured in campaign mail and TV advertising.
Speaking to a Republican women’s group at a Friendly Hills Country Club luncheon in Whittier, Kashkari criticized President Obama and other Democrats for trying to raise the minimum wage.
“That’s good for those workers who get to keep their jobs,” he told dozens of Republicans in the banquet room overlooking the golf greens. “It’s devastating for those workers who are out of a job as a result of it. They don’t talk about that.”
Kashkari did not mention Romney’s newly announced support for a higher minimum wage but did pay tribute to the former Massachusetts governor.
“I think he would’ve made an excellent president—and by the way, I think he’d still make an excellent president,” Kashkari told the group. “You never know. There’s some rumors out there. We may still get our hope. He may still fulfill our dreams.”
Romney said Friday that he does not plan to run for president again in 2016.
"I also believe the key for our party is to be able to convince the people who are in the working population, particularly in the Hispanic community, that our party will help them get better jobs and better wages," Romney said.
President Obama and Democrats in Congress have been pushing to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, from $7.25. Republicans have blocked the move; Democrats have sought to make it a big issue in the midterm elections.
Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill raising California's $8-an-hour minimum wage. It will increase to $9 in July and $10 on Jan. 1, 2016.
Kashkari hopes to unseat Brown in the November election. But polls have found a more conservative Republican, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly of Twin Peaks, running far ahead of Kashkari in the June 3 primary.
Kashkari has stressed jobs and education. On Friday, he also attacked Democrats for their abandoned push earlier this year to overturn California's ban on affirmative action in public higher education.
He recalled telling 500 students in a speech at UC Berkeley: “Do you know what that bill is really about? The Democrats think there are too many Asians at Berkeley. And they should have called the bill the `there are too many Asians at Berkeley’ bill.”
“You should have seen the looks on their faces when I said that,” Kashkari, whose parents were immigrants from India, told the mostly white Republicans at the country club after their chicken enchilada lunch. “But I was being honest with them. That’s exactly what that bill was about, and they knew it.”