Texas gubernatorial candidate and Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) faces continued tough scrutiny over his campaign’s position against equal pay for women. His campaign has twice justified the gender wage gap and implied he would veto an equal pay bill that makes it easier for women to sue. Instead of addressing the criticism directly, Abbott has chosen to fire back accusations that Wendy Davis, his opponent in the gubernatorial race, is “defending gender discrimination.”
Over the last week, the Abbott campaign has posted Facebook ads that call Davis a hypocrite on the gender wage gap, linking to a petition on his site that describes a client Davis once reportedly defended:
Sen. Wendy Davis continues to launch attacks over equal pay while shielding her own record of defending gender discrimination. And while on the Fort Worth City Council, Sen. Davis approved funds to defend a former city employee with a “legs and lipstick” policy.
Here, Abbott is referring to a routine vote Davis cast as a city council member that granted legal counsel funds to a Fort Worth employer sued for harassment and discrimination.
Abbott’s old defense on equal pay has been to argue new no legislation is necessary because Texas can enforce existing discrimination law. However, that answer has not been enough to satisfy, especially in a state where women make 70 cents to a man’s dollar.
This new line of attack against Davis is surprising, particularly when Abbott has personally defended unequal pay as Attorney General. In 2012, he defended a state agency in court against a female professor who sued claiming she was discriminated over race and national origin. Abbott has argued that existing Texas law against gender bias is already being enforced effectively. That implies the issue has been resolved, which simply isn’t true. Texas Governor Rick Perry (R), who vetoed Texas’ Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act last year, recently called the issue “nonsense.” The San Antonio Express-News found that in Abbott’s own office, women are paid $6,000 less than men for the same work in his Attorney General office, while only three out of the top 20 highest-paid employees at the agency are women.
Women voters could very well mean the difference in who wins the Texas election, since Texas women make up a majority of the Texas electorate, are more likely to vote Democratic, and are steadily abandoning Republicans. Nationwide, the GOP have aimed to attract more women voters to the party, only to undermine those efforts with candidates who want to restrict abortion rights for rape victims, cut contraception access, oppose equal pay, and fundamentally insult women. Abbott’s surrogate, in fact, defended the pay gap as men being “better negotiators.”
Beyond equal pay, Abbott’s rocky record on women’s issues include comparing Planned Parenthood to a terrorist organization and challenging the Affordable Care Act’s provisions for birth control access. Sexism, too, has surfaced early on in the campaign. The scrutiny of Davis’ personal narrative about how she escaped poverty as a single mother followed a classic sexist playbook.