LOS ANGELES —
Democrats across the nation are eager to make increasing the minimum wage a defining campaign issue in 2014, but in California a proposal to boost the pay rate to $12 an hour is coming from a different point on the political compass.
Ron Unz, a Silicon Valley multimillionaire and registered Republican who once ran for governor and, briefly, U.S. Senate, wants state voters to endorse the wage jump that he predicts would nourish the economy and lift low-paid workers from dependency on food stamps and other assistance bankrolled by taxpayers.
A push for bigger paychecks for workers at the lower rungs of the economic ladder is typically associated with Democrats — President Barack Obama is supporting a bill in Congress that would elevate the $7.25 federal minimum to over $10 an hour.
But entrepreneur Unz, 52, is a former publisher of The American Conservative magazine with a history of against-the-grain political activism that includes pushing a 1998 ballot proposal that dismantled California’s bilingual education system, an idea he later championed in Colorado and other states.
Two decades ago, as a 32-year-old, the theoretical-physicist-turned-software-developer tried to unseat then-Gov. Pete Wilson, a fellow Republican. After a long break on the political sidelines, Unz’s reappearance has startled members of both major parties, and his proposal — if it goes to voters in November — could unsettle races from governor to Congress.