Texas GOP Comments Revive Equal Pay Debate
Comments from GOP figures in Texas are reviving the debate there over fair pay. Cari Christman, executive director of a Texas political action committee (PAC) called Red State Women was recently asked on local TV station WFAA about legislation to address the pay gap between men and women.
Christman said she wanted to see fair and equal pay for women, but “Women are extremely busy. We lead busy lives, whether working professionally, whether we’re working from home, and times are extremely busy. It’s a busy cycle for women, and we’ve got a lot to juggle. And so when we look at this issue we think, what’s practical? And we want more access to jobs. We want to be able to get a higher education degree at the same time that we’re working or raising a family. That’s common sense, and we believe that that real-world solution is a more practical way to approach the problem.”
The comments were widely criticized.
Then Beth Cubriel, executive director of the Texas Republican Party weighed in further on the issue. “Men are better negotiators, and I would encourage women, instead of pursuing the courts for action, to become better negotiators,” she said on Austin’s Time Warner cable station.
Washington Post political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson discusses the comments and equal pay issue with Here & Now’s Robin Young.
- Nia-Malika Henderson, national political reporter for The Washington Post and senior writer for “She the People,” the Post’s blog about women and politics. She tweets @NiaWaPo.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
Well now to a story out of Texas that's reviving the debate over equal pay and whether or not the Republican Party cares about it or other issues regarding women. Cari Christman, executive director of a Texas group called Red State Women PAC, was recently asked on local TV station WFAA about whether the state needed legislation like the federal Lilly Ledbetter Act to address the pay gap between men and women.
Christman said that while she did want to see fair and equal pay for women...
CARI CHRISTMAN: Women are extremely busy. We lead busy lives, whether working professionally, whether we're working from home. And so when we look at this issue, we think what's practical. And we want more access to jobs. We want to be able to go to get a higher education degree at the same time that we're working or raising a family. That's common sense. And we believe that that real-world solution is a more practical way to approach the problem.
YOUNG: Well then on Monday, Beth Cubriel, executive director of the Texas Republican Party, added this:
BETH CUBRIEL: Men are better negotiators, and I would encourage women instead of pursuing the courts for action to become better negotiators.
YOUNG: So two comments that leave the impression that women are too busy to be bothered by the pay gap between them and men, still 70 cents to the dollar, or that the gap is their own fault because they need to be better negotiators. How is this playing out? Nia-Malika Henderson is national political reporter for The Washington Post, senior writer for She the People, a blog about women and politics.
And Nia, we're noting this isn't just Texas. In Minnesota last week, State Rep. Andrea Kieffer told some colleagues that a bill that's pending there, that includes several things including equal pay for women, is putting us backwards in time and making women look like whiners. What is going on here?
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: Well, I think you're seeing the Republican Party, not only the national party, the Republican National Committee but also Republicans across the state really grapple with how they deal with and push back on what has been a very effective strategy from Democrats, the war on women, right.
It used to be that the war on women was mainly focused on like abortion and contraception, and you remember in 2012 a slew of Republicans made remarks about rape and abortion. And it was, you know, redounded to the benefit of Democrats. And this year you see a lot of Democratic candidates, particularly women who were running in states like Texas and states like Georgia and Kentucky, bringing this issue back up, the war on women but really framing it as an economic issue.
And you see this happening also in the national party. President Obama last week, he met with a group of Democratic women representatives, and they too are pushing this issue of paycheck fairness of the disparity, the gender wage gap, 77 cents on the dollar. That's what women earn compared to men.
And I think what you're seeing from Republicans is they are trying to put women forward as the face of their policy, right. I mean, they had a big autopsy that came out a year ago, and so they are trying to figure out how can they effectively push back against this rhetoric. So they're putting women out there to really talk about these issues.
And so far, at least in the instances that we just heard, it's been a bit of a rocky attempt to push back.
YOUNG: Well, and you say this is happening across the country, equal pay cropping up in races, especially those in which women are running against men. Tick through some of those.
CUBRIEL: Well, you've got - of course in Texas you're goig to have Wendy Davis, who is also running with - her number two is Leticia Van de Putte, who's running as a lieutenant governor, and then she's running against Greg Abbott. We don't know who's going to be the lieutenant governor because there's going to be a primary there.
HENDERSON: You've got Alison Grimes, who's running against Mitch McConnell, very much framing that race, you know, around these issues of equal pay. And then you've got Mary Burke, who is running for governor in Wisconsin. Scott Walker is the governor who actually voted to repeal the equal pay language in Wisconsin. And then you've got Michelle Nunn, who's going to run likely against a man in Georgia, as well. Kay Hagan, same thing in - who's running for Senate to keep her Senate seat in North Carolina. She'll probably face Thom Tillis.
So yeah, what pollsters find is that both men and women generally agree that equal pay should be the law of the land, but it particularly resonates with women when they hear it from women. So that's something that you're seeing in these races. And they have the president very much co-signing on this. He's going to be in Florida tomorrow talking about this, talking about family issues, talking about the women, the pay gap.
And it comes at a time when listen, we're discussing Sheryl Sandberg. I think she was on the Forbes list. She's officially...
YOUNG: "Lean In."
HENDERSON: She's officially a billionaire, and that comment out of Texas, right, with a woman saying oh, well, women just need to negotiate more, in some ways that's straight out of "Lean In," right, Sheryl Sandberg's bestselling book. We're also at a period culturally when women are increasingly the head of households as the primary breadwinner. So they're trying to frame, Democrats at least, trying to frame these economic issues as primarily women's issues so they can get those women, particularly single, working-class women, out to the polls.
YOUNG: Well, but do Republicans have research showing that Republican women don't want legislation? Because that's what we're hearing from these women they're putting forward.
HENDERSON: I mean, that's the interesting thing. I mean, if you look at - and this was a Democratic poll that came out I think it was in the fall of last year. It shows pretty bipartisan support for equal pay legislation, feelings, you know, feelings among both folks that this needs to be addressed. But again, you have Republicans saying, well, you know, there are laws already on the book to address this, so why should we have more laws.
YOUNG: And Nia-Malika Henderson, by the way I said nationally the - it's I think 70 cents to the dollar for women, but in some states, Wyoming, it's 64 cents to the dollar, the pay gap for women.
YOUNG: And Nia is political reporter for The Washington Post, also senior writer for She the People, a blog about women and politics. Nia, thanks for weighing in on this for us today.
HENDERSON: Thank you.
YOUNG: You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.