“March Madness,” usually applied to collegiate basketball, in 2014 could also describe Republican Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott’s view of his campaign for governor.
Team Abbott was seriously trying to change the subject after they sent Abbott off in February campaigning with shock-rocker gun jock Ted Nugent as a crowd draw to underline his pro-gun credentials.
Abbott learned, a bit too late, that Nugent had referred to President Obama as a “sub-human mongrel,” and bragged about affairs with under-age girls. Abbott’s team hoped desperately to side-step that, and return to bashing Obamacare and Obama, and his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Wendy Davis.
So Team Abbott attacked Davis because her law firm – her partner is Brian Newby, Gov. Rick Perry’s former chief of staff – had served and is serving as bond counsel for several public entities in the Dallas- Fort Worth area. Abbott’s bunch says this is a conflict of interest and unethical, although it is legal.
But, just as the Abbott group was rolling out that blast, Abbott was asked on WFAA-TV’s “Inside Texas Politics” show on Sunday, March 9, whether, had he been governor, he would have done as Gov. Perry had done, and vetoed extending the federal Lilly Ledbetter equal-pay-for-equalwork principles to state law.
Abbott talked around the question, saying he believes in equal pay for equal work regardless of sex, but never said whether he would have vetoed the bill passed by the legislature.
That did not go unnoticed by Davis. She was the Senate sponsor of the bill Perry vetoed. It had been passed with a bi-partisan support in the Republican-dominated Texas House and Senate.
So while Abbott’s bunch tried repeatedly to gain traction on Davis’s public bond business, they instead were having to play defense. First it was for Abbott ducking the veto question. And then when he finally acknowledged, through a spokesman, that he would also have vetoed the bill, Davis and the Democrats turned up the heat.
It probably didn’t help that Gov. Perry, on MSNBC, said Davis continuing to talk about the equal-pay bill was “nonsense,” and wouldn’t have made any difference. Because it would have.
The 2009 Lilly Ledbetter act changed federal law so a woman paid less than men doing equal work could sue within 180 days of her most recent check that reflected the discrimination, instead of the first check, which could have been years earlier. She might never have known about the pay discrepancy until well after the limitation on filing had expired.
Adding the same change to state law, as at least 42 other states have done, would give women the same access in state courts, in addition to the less accessible and more expensive federal courts.
Other developments, either brought about by Davis charges, gimmicks or reactions to stumbles by Abbott and Republican backers, have kept the equal-pay issue bubbling:
— The executive director of a newly-formed group called Red State Women, Cari Christman, said on WFAA-TV that while “we believe Texas women want and deserve equal pay,” a law isn’t necessary because “women are extremely busy,” without time for lawsuits.
— On Monday, March 24, Davis appeared at Scholz Garten in Austin, asking when Abbott would respond to questions about news reports that women attorneys in his office make $6,000 a year less than men.
“I have a message for Greg Abbott today: Stop hiding behind your staff members. Stop hiding behind your surrogates. This Texas gal is calling you out,” Davis said.
“Act like a Texan and answer this question for yourself: what on earth is going on at your Attorney General’s office? Why do you think it’s OK to pay women in your office less than men when they do the same work?”
An Abbott spokesman said the men had more experience.
— On Tuesday, March 25, Team Davis said an “Act Like A Texan” digital clock had been added to their website (it takes a little guesswork to find it) tallying second by second how long Abbott hasn’t personally responded to questions on the equal-pay issue.
— On Wednesday, March 26, the 12-member Texas Senate Democratic Caucus, which includes Davis, sent a letter to Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst asking him to assign an interim committee to study the equal-pay situation in state agencies.
” . . . Texas can do better,” the senators wrote. “And Texas will be even greater when we assure all people are treated equally. We believe that unequal pay for equal work is unacceptable in Texas. We are hopeful that you agree and will, as a result, establish this interim study. . . . “
Look for the equal-pay issue to also be used nationally this year in Democratic campaigns.
DAVE MCNEELY is a political columnist. You may contact him at davemcneely111@ gmail or (512)458-2963.