After two weeks of debate in the Texas governor's race over equal pay, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis on Monday renewed her criticism of Republican opponent Greg Abbott on the issue, saying that the attorney general's statement that he supported the “concept” of equal pay for women wasn’t enough.
“I’ve never heard of a concept that could pay the rent, put food on the table or buy a tank of gas for the truck,” Davis said to a packed room of supporters during a campaign stop in Austin, where she reiterated several attacks that her campaign has directed at Abbott over his opposition to a Texas version of the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
During an interview with WFAA-TV this month, Abbott said he supported equal pay for women but added that existing state statutes protect against pay discrimination on the basis of gender. Davis criticized his comments, saying he initially "dodged" answering whether he would have vetoed the Texas version of the act. Davis sponsored such legislation last year in the state Senate, but it was vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry. Last week, an Abbott spokesman indicated that the attorney general would not sign the bill because existing state statutes and constitutional protections already disallow pay discrimination.
The Abbott campaign did not respond to requests for comments on Davis’ remarks. But in a news release Monday, it continued to focus on Davis' work as legal counsel to several public entities that she has helped issue bond offerings, saying she has personally profited from creating public debt.
“Sen. Davis should stop hiding and say how much she made from taxpayer-funded contracts while profiting off state debt – Texas voters deserve to know,” Abbott spokesman Matt Hirsch said in a statement. The Davis campaign has said that she is no longer taking new clients and has already disclosed a list of the public entities she currently represents.
At Monday's event, Davis cited an analysis by the San Antonio Express-News showing that most female assistant attorneys general make less on average than men in the same positions. The attorney general's office has said the difference is linked to experience and time at the agency.
"Act like a Texan, Greg Abbott, and answer this question for yourself: What on earth is going on in your attorney general's office?" Davis said.
Davis also sounded off on comments made by Republican spokeswomen in recent TV interviews that addressed the discord around equal pay.
In separate TV interviews, Texas Republican Party Executive Director Beth Cubriel said that “men are better negotiators” than women in the workplace and encouraged women to “become better negotiators” rather than pursuing equal pay action through the court system. And Cari Christman, the chairwoman of the RedState Women political action committee, suggested that women are “too busy” with work and advanced degrees to fight equal pay in the courts, and instead want “practical” solutions.
Davis criticized the Abbott “surrogates” for their comments, saying that women are not "too busy" to fight for economic opportunity and that she would not be “too busy” to sign the Texas version of the act into law if elected governor.
“I have a message for Greg Abbott today: Stop hiding behind your staff members. Stop hiding behind your surrogates,” Davis said. “This Texas gal is calling you out.”
Davis also continued to highlight Abbott's involvement in a fair pay court battle, saying that as Texas' attorney general, he defended the state against an equal pay lawsuit filed by a female professor who alleged discriminatory pay on the basis of race and nationality. The professor was unable to pursue her case because the Texas Supreme Court ruled that federal law didn’t apply to the state’s statute of limitations, which the AG’s office argued had expired.
Current state law requires disparate pay claims to be made within 180 days after the discrimination began, whereas the federal Lilly Ledbetter Act allows such claims to be filed when discrimination is discovered.
Last week, the Abbott campaign suggested that Davis was practicing “equal pay hypocrisy” given her counsel to the Tarrant Regional Water District, which was previously accused of gender pay discrimination under the Lilly Ledbetter Act, through her law firm Newby Davis.
But the Davis campaign said that the senator serves as minority bond counsel for the district, only advising the public entity on issuing municipal bonds.
On Monday, the Abbott campaign criticized Davis for her legal counsel of three different bond offerings worth millions of dollars and claiming she is profiting off Texas public debt through her work.
Hirsch also touted a far-reaching ethics reform Abbott previously proposed that would prohibit lawmakers from serving as bond counsel to any public entity.
In response to the Abbott campaign’s claims, Davis told reporters that she had already released a list of her public clients “in the interest of transparency” and that “practicalities have required” her to continue working on behalf of some of her clients.
“I hope to continue to wind that down as the campaign progresses,” Davis said.
When asked for a timeline, Davis said that she would discontinue her work once her remaining responsibilities were “taken care of” and added that the time spent working for her existing clients was minimal.