Gubernatorial nominee and Texas AG Greg Abbott (R-TX) is in trouble. Abbott told Texans, “I fully expect women to be paid what men are paid.” His spokesman even assured the people of Texas that Abbott supported equal pay for women and that he would “continue to ensure it’s enforced.”
The only problem is it turns out equal pay is not even enforced in Abbott’s own Attorney General office.
Under fire from Democratic opponent State Senator Wendy Davis about his failure to publicly support the Texas version of the Lilly Ledbetter Act, the Republican Abbott went on TV to personalize himself as a concerned father and husband, emphasizing his role as family man over his actual policy position.
On March 8th, Abbott told WFAA, “As a father of a teenage daughter, as a husband of a wife who has been involved in the work force here in the state of Texas, I fully expect women to be paid what men are paid. There shouldn’t be any differential in payment because of sex.”
Abbott ducked and dodged the real issue of why Republican Governor Rick Perry did Texas businesses a huge favor by vetoing the state legislation based on the federal Lilly Ledbetter Act, which would allow a woman who discovers a pay inequity to seek remedy. Currently, if a woman discovers a discriminatory paycheck more than 180 days after her first paycheck was issued, she cannot file suit.
Republicans move this goal post from the rights granted in Lilly Ledbetter to general support for equal pay as an idea, so that they can say things that sound great until you look under the hood and realize this person just blew off the entire issue.
When Abbott’s personal anecdotes failed to impress, Texas Republicans then deployed several female Republicans to mansplain to the people why women don’t need equal pay protection. They are “too busy” for that, according to the female Executive Director of the Texas GOP Women’s PAC. And when that fell flat, they sent out another female, an Abbott ally who is also the Executive Director of the Texas Republican Party, to explain that women are just bad negotiators and they better buck up.
Sadly for the Republican campaign, it turned out that women don’t enjoy being patronized so much.
With the furor rising and pundits saying that this whole equal pay thing was actually catching fire, and Abbott was losing ground in polls, Abbott campaign spokesman Matt Hirsch tried to clear things up, “Greg Abbott supports equal pay, and he supports Texas and federal law that provides legal avenues for victims of discrimination.” Here comes the part where they pretend they don’t understand Lilly Ledbetter, “The Texas Constitution and both state and federal law guarantee a woman’s right to equal pay in Texas. Equal pay is the law in Texas, and as governor, Greg Abbott will continue to ensure it’s enforced.”
The problem for Abbott is that the San Antonio Express News (subscription link) went looking for actual facts, and they found out that in Abbott’s state AG office, women are not being paid the same as men for the same work.
Equal pay for women is in the spotlight of the Texas governor’s race, and figures from Attorney General Greg Abbott’s state agency show most female assistant attorneys general make less on average than do men in the same job classification.
Abbott’s office said the difference is explained by the amount of time that the men have been licensed as lawyers and have served at the agency.
But drilling down into different classifications of assistant attorney general, the figures provided by Abbott’s office show there isn’t always a direct correlation between such experience and pay.
Yes, Abbott is the Attorney General, who swore he supported equal pay and vowed, “Equal pay is the law in Texas, and as governor, Greg Abbott will continue to ensure it’s enforced.” If he plans to enforce it as Governor as he has in his own office, women are in deep trouble.
While some of the women in Abbott’s office now know that they are possibly being discriminated against, the private sector is much less transparent than the public sector. It’s harder to find out what others are being paid unless they volunteer it. This is why women need the protection to be able to file longer than 180 days after their first paycheck.
So Greg Abbott on equal pay? You can’t believe a word he says. Clearly he doesn’t really get it, and his anecdotal but vague reference to his wife having worked at some point is irrelevant. Furthermore, the wife of the AG has options and legal protections that most Texas women do not.
But ultimately, this isn’t about a gotcha moment against Greg Abbott. It’s much more important than that. It’s about looking under the hood of any candidate. Voters need to look at their policy positions, not the folksy things they say on TV. Sure, Greg Abbott loves his wife and daughter, and maybe as an IDEA he fully supports equal pay, though his desperation to explain how he gets it and he cares reminded me of Mitt Romney using his very privileged wife as proof that he was in touch with American women.
Big business runs the Republican Party, and big business wanted the state Lilly Ledbetter Act killed. So Governor Rick Perry did their bidding. Do Texans want another puppet for Big Business? If so, Greg Abbott is their man.
Update 2:20 PM EST: Greg Abbott finally admitted that he would veto equal pay for women.
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.