COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Tuesday that minimum wage increases should be left to businesses and state governments, opposing a hike in the federal pay floor as an impediment to individuals trying to escape from poverty.
"State minimum wages are fine," said Bush, making his first extended foray into the state that holds the initial Southern primary of the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
As governor, Bush opposed a 2004 ballot measure approved by voters in Florida that tied increases in the state minimum wage to inflation. Asked about the minimum wage at a pair of appearances on Tuesday, he said he doesn't want to abolish the existing federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, but also opposes raising it.
Democrats generally favor raising the minimum wage, while many Republicans oppose it.
"We're moving to a world where it's sticky in the ends, where it's harder for people in poverty to move up, and where the rich are doing really well, and the middle is getting squeezed," Bush said at his first stop of the day in Greenville.
"Any idea that perpetuates that is one that I would oppose, and I think this minimum wage idea is exactly one of those things," he said.
Bush has yet to formally declare his intention to run for president in 2016, but winked at the idea during a Chamber of Commerce breakfast, telling the crowd "you'll be seeing a lot of me." He is spending two days this week in South Carolina, which hosts the South's first presidential primary next February, a few weeks after the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.
The South Carolina primary could draw more than 600,000 voters, far exceeding turnout in Iowa and New Hampshire. Bush said South Carolina would play a huge role as "the first big primary state."
Bush's pitch Tuesday began with a biography, from his immediate family life to his experience in the private sector and public office. He credited his wife, Columba, with "bringing order to my life." Being "George's boy, Barbara's boy" means he "won the lottery."
His wide-range of business ventures, he said, means, "I've signed the front-side of a paycheck. ... Washington has lost its way in this regard. I'm proud that I've been in business and know how it works."
Eight years as Florida's chief executive gave him practical experience in a state that "looks like America," he said.
"It's not completely red, not completely blue," Bush said, but "as purple as can be."
But at an evening reception with state Republican lawmakers in Columbia, Bush emphasized that "good, solid, conservative governance" is his priority.
"I happen to think that conservative governance ... would be helpful in Washington, D.C." he said, instead of "the food fight, the constant crisis, never solving problems, never trying to forge consensus."
As he has in past trips to Iowa and New Hampshire, Bush defended his endorsement of Common Core education standards and an immigration overhaul, positions that put him at odds with many conservative voters.
Bush said Congress should spell out that the federal government not influence curriculum or standards "directly or indirectly," a nod to the Obama administration considering whether a state has adopted the Common Core standards when it awards lucrative federal grants.
He also repeated his belief that millions of people living in the country illegally should have a path to legal status.
"Look, I'm pretty convinced that my views on this are the right views for sustained economic growth," Bush said. "If there's a better idea, I'd like to hear it. But doing nothing? That's not a plan."
One of Bush's expected top rivals for the nomination, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, will be in South Carolina on Thursday and Friday.
Both Bush and Walker have public and private events this week that take them to the upstate area around Greenville and Spartanburg, the capital city of Columbia and the coastal cities of Myrtle Beach and Charleston.
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