Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis delivered a strong message to Republican opponent Greg Abbott on equal pay for women Monday morning, telling him to "act like a Texan" and stop letting his surrogates speak for him on the issue.
"I have a message for Greg Abbott today," Davis said at a speech in Austin. "Stop hiding behind your staff members. Stop hiding behind your surrogates. This Texas gal is calling you out. Act like a Texan and answer this question for yourself: What on earth is going on at your attorney general's office?"
Abbott's campaign has had a rough week on the issue of fair pay. Two of his surrogates stumbled in television interviews on the subject, saying women are too "busy" to think about equal pay for equal work and insisting that the reason women are paid less is that "men are better negotiators." The San Antonio Express-News reported that Abbott's office pays female assistant attorneys general $6,000 less, on average, than men in the same position, and Abbott's campaign said he would veto equal pay legislation that because current wage discrimination laws are sufficient, he would make it easier for women to sue over pay discrimination.
As attorney general, Abbott also successfully defended the state against a female college professor who was being paid less than her employees for the same work, arguing that federal equal pay protections don't apply in state court.
Davis pointed out on Monday that as state senator, she introduced an equal pay bill in a Republican-controlled Texas legislature that would have changed the circumstances under which women can sue their employers for pay discrimination, and it passed. Gov. Rick Perry (R) vetoed the bill last June.
Abbott has said he supports the concept of equal pay for women and that he would enforce the laws already in place. "Greg Abbott supports equal pay, and he supports Texas and federal law that provides legal avenues for victims of discrimination," Abbott campaign spokesman Matt Hirsch said last week. "The Texas Constitution and both state and federal law guarantee a woman's right to equal pay in Texas. Equal pay is the law in Texas, and as governor, Greg Abbott will continue to ensure it's enforced."
A request for comment to Abbott's office was not immediately returned Monday.
"We are not too 'busy' to vote this fall," Davis added. "And I can assure you -- that if I am elected governor, I will definitely not be too 'busy' to sign the Texas Equal Pay Act the minute it hits my desk."