Equal Pay Takes Center Stage as a Democratic Campaign Issue

Here’s what female Democratic candidates are saying about equal pay. Spoiler: It’s a united front.

National Journal
Lucia Graves
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Lucia Graves
April 8, 2014, 1:32 p.m.

Noth­ing riles the Re­pub­lic like dis­putes over equal pay. And Demo­crat­ic politi­cians, think­ing they have the edge in the ar­gu­ment, have been diving in­to those con­ver­sa­tions — first in Texas, then in Wash­ing­ton, and now all across the coun­try as midterm elec­tions heat up.

Last week Demo­crat­ic gubernat­ori­al can­did­ate Wendy Dav­is ex­cor­i­ated her Re­pub­lic­an com­pet­it­or At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Greg Ab­bott for op­pos­ing le­gis­la­tion that would help work­ers file wage-dis­crim­in­a­tion claims. This week the Obama White House an­nounced ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tions to help fed­er­al fe­male con­tract­ors while top Demo­crats touted the Paycheck Fair­ness Act. And Tues­day, more than a dozen Demo­crat­ic wo­men ad­ded their names to the list of can­did­ates stress­ing their al­le­gi­ance to fight­ing for paycheck-fair­ness le­gis­la­tion. (The rub: Wo­men make 77 to 82 per­cent of what men make, de­pend­ing on the met­ric you use.)

“This is ex­actly the kind of thing that really hurts our kids and our fu­ture,” said Aman­da Rentería, a con­gres­sion­al can­did­ate in Cali­for­nia’s 21st Dis­trict, on a Tues­day con­fer­ence call with re­port­ers. “And it couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent between Con­gress­man [Dav­id] Valadao and I when it comes to fight­ing for wo­men and for mak­ing sure our fam­il­ies can really provide for their fam­il­ies and for our fu­ture.”

Leti­cia Van de Putte, a can­did­ate for lieu­ten­ant gov­ernor of Texas, echoed that sen­ti­ment. “Why would any­one want their sons to get paid more for the same job, for the same work?” she asked. “We love our chil­dren equally.”

A quick sur­vey of can­did­ates sup­por­ted by EMILY’s List, the group that helps fund and groom fe­male can­did­ates who back abor­tion rights, shows such rhet­or­ic is nearly uni­ver­sal. “Equal Pay Day has drawn a clear out­line of the dif­fer­ence between the two parties,” EMILY’s List spokes­wo­man Marcy Stech told Na­tion­al Journ­al in a state­ment. “In state after state EMILY’s List can­did­ates are out on the trail talk­ing to voters who know that it’s well past time to end gender dis­crim­in­a­tion in pay while Re­pub­lic­ans are fum­bling the ball on a com­mon­sense solu­tion.”

One such can­did­ate is Ann Cal­lis, a Demo­crat run­ning for of­fice in Illinois’ 13th dis­trict. In a Tues­day in­ter­view with WCIA 3’s Cyn­thia Bruno, she urged law­makers to vote yes on the Paycheck Fair­ness Act and raise the min­im­um wage. An­oth­er is Hawaii’s Colleen Hanabusa, who’s run­ning for U.S. Sen­ate. In a Tues­day op-ed, Hanabusa ar­gued pay equity and a high­er min­im­um wage will help wo­men, fam­il­ies, com­munit­ies, and the na­tion.

Emily Cain, a Demo­crat run­ning in Maine’s 2nd Dis­trict, sim­il­arly soun­ded her sup­port. “Re­pub­lic­ans in Con­gress have blocked equal-pay le­gis­la­tion and mocked the ba­sic fair­ness and equal­ity that work­ing wo­men and their fam­il­ies de­serve,” Cain said in a state­ment pos­ted Tues­day. “We need to end this gender dis­crim­in­a­tion in pay and start re­ward­ing equal work with equal pay im­me­di­ately.”

In the North Car­o­lina Sen­ate race, Demo­crat­ic in­cum­bent Kay Hagan made her feel­ings known and con­tras­ted them with her likely op­pon­ent Thom Tillis’s po­s­i­tion. “Giv­en Tillis’s ac­tions on the state equal-pay meas­ure, North Car­olini­ans can only as­sume that he op­poses the Paycheck Fair­ness Act and the Lilly Led­bet­ter Fair Pay Act, which is already law,” she wrote Tues­day. “As more and more fam­il­ies rely on wo­men’s in­come as the primary or co-bread­win­ner, this isn’t just an is­sue that af­fects wo­men — it has an im­pact on middle-class fam­il­ies and chil­dren in every corner of our state where wo­men earn just 82 cents to the dol­lar that men earn.”

In Cali­for­nia’s 31st Dis­trict, Eloise Gomez Reyes called it “a fight to im­prove eco­nom­ic se­cur­ity for mil­lions of chil­dren in Amer­ica liv­ing in house­holds that de­pend on the moth­ers’ earn­ings to make ends meet.” In Flor­ida’s 2nd, Gwen Gra­ham called Re­pub­lic­an re­cal­cit­rance on the is­sue “ex­actly the kind of thing North Flor­idi­ans can’t stand about Wash­ing­ton’s out-of-touch pri­or­it­ies.” And in Iowa’s 3rd, Staci Ap­pel vowed to “fight to end gender dis­crim­in­a­tion in pay in Con­gress and build an eco­nomy that works for all of Iowa’s fam­il­ies.”

Ken­tucky Sen­ate can­did­ate Al­is­on Lun­der­gan Grimes went on of­fense, not­ing her op­pon­ent, Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell, had twice voted to pre­vent wo­men from seek­ing re­course for the pay dis­crim­in­a­tion.

These wo­men are just a hand­ful of the Demo­crat­ic can­did­ates hop­ing to mo­bil­ize fe­male voters, an im­port­ant vot­ing block in 2014 and bey­ond. While many have noted the ves­ted in­terest Demo­crats have in woo­ing fe­male voters (in 2012, Pres­id­ent Obama won wo­men voters by 11 points), oth­ers have gone even fur­ther, sug­gest­ing the ef­fort is noth­ing more than a “des­per­ate” elec­tion ploy.

Lily Adams, deputy com­mu­nic­a­tions dir­ect­or for the Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee, dis­missed the no­tion. “It’s not about scor­ing polit­ic­al points,” she told re­port­ers on Tues­day’s call. “It’s about ba­sic fair­ness.”

Up­date: An earli­er ver­sion of this story con­tained a com­ment from Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell that Talk­ing Points Memo had con­strued as cri­ti­cism of the Demo­crats’ fo­cus on pay equity is­sues. As TPM is now re­port­ing, Mc­Con­nell’s of­fice has since said that TPM mis­con­strued his com­ments and that he was ac­tu­ally talk­ing about the Demo­crats’ fo­cus on the Koch broth­ers. As a res­ult, Mc­Con­nell’s com­ment has been re­moved from this story.

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