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Davis, Abbott Spar Over Equal Pay, Ethics

With the Texas governor's race in full general election mode, Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis and her Republican opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott, sparred on Tuesday over fair pay for women and ethics.

Gubernatorial candidates Greg Abbott and Wendy Davis are shown on primary night on March 4, 2014.

With the Texas governor's race in full general election mode, Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis and her Republican opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott, sparred on Tuesday over fair pay and ethics.

Davis hosted a conference call during which she highlighted Abbott’s involvement in a fair pay court battle, saying he fought against equal pay for women. Meanwhile, the Abbott campaign went after Davis for continuing to represent public sector clients in her law practice, which she previously said she would stop doing if she ran for governor. 

On Tuesday, Davis criticized Abbott for defending the state in a lawsuit filed by a professor at Prairie View A&M University who alleged discriminatory pay on the basis of race and nationality.

The federal Lilly Ledbetter Act allows such claims to be filed when discrimination is discovered, not when it began. But the AG's office argued that the statute of limitations had expired because state law requires that claims against discriminatory pay be made within 180 days after the discrimination begins. The Texas Supreme Court ruled in Abbott’s favor and dismissed the professor’s case after it decided that federal law didn’t apply to the state’s statute of limitations.

When it comes to controversial suits, Abbott has defended himself, saying his duties as attorney general include defending state agencies in court. Davis argued that "at some point in time he has to take responsibility for the fact that he is defending laws that are not in keeping with the values of everyday Texans."

Davis' attack followed a media blitz on Monday over a weekend interview Abbott did with WFAA-TV. On the air, Abbott did not directly answer a question about whether he would veto a Texas equal pay act designed to prevent wage discrimination against women. (Davis sponsored a Texas version of the Lilly Ledbetter Act in the Senate during the last legislative session and it passed — but Gov. Rick Perry vetoed it, saying it duplicated federal law.)

Abbott said he supports equal pay for women but indicated there are already laws in place to protect women in the workforce, citing state statutes and constitutional protections against gender discrimination.

The Abbott campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding Davis’ remarks on the equal pay lawsuit. But while Davis was on the Tuesday conference call, the Abbott campaign reiterated its own criticism of Davis.

Abbott spokesman Matt Hirsch called into question Davis’ ethics, suggesting she was “profiting from taxpayer-funded contracts” while working in the Senate.

“Sen. Davis was sent to Austin to work on behalf of Texans, but it appears the person who profited the most is Sen. Davis,” Hirsch said in a statement. “She misled the public, yet again, when she promised to stop representing her public sector clients more than five months ago but continues to reap lucrative contracts.”

Last week, the Tribune reported that Davis continues to represent several public sector clients despite saying she would put her legal work for such clients on hold if she ran for governor. The Tribune story followed the campaign’s release of a list of previously reported governmental or quasi-public entities she has represented since 2010.

On the call with reporters, Davis brushed off the Abbott campaign’s criticism.

“I have released all of the public clients that I represent and from whom I derive income,” she said. “And I’ve done that not because the law required me to do so but because I think it’s the right thing to.”

Davis spokesman Bo Delp has said Davis is not taking on any new clients and is “seeking to wrap up” existing workload.

The Abbott campaign has also launched an attack website, which includes a timer showing how long Davis has continued to represent public sector clients. Abbott has made legislative conflicts of interest a centerpiece of a far-reaching ethics reform proposal that would require more disclosure and much tighter recusal rules. The site also maps Davis’ out-of-state fundraisers and events, a point the Abbott campaign has taken issue with since her campaign began.

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Politics 2014 elections Greg Abbott Wendy Davis