Greg Abbott Scores an Own Goal on Equal Pay

Gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott at a campaign event
Patrick Michels
Gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott at a campaign event

Today, Peggy Fikac and a team of reporters at the San Antonio Express-News had the kind of story that’ll have state politics reporters walking around Austin aimlessly, asking themselves why they aren’t more enterprising. (Maybe it’s just me.) Amid a sprawling fight between Wendy Davis and Greg Abbott over equal pay laws—Davis authored one last session that earned wide bipartisan support, and until today Abbott wouldn’t say if he would veto it like Perry did—Fikac got salary data for employees of Abbott’s attorney general office, and identified instances of unequal pay between women and men.

Some of the features Fikac describes about the AG’s employee pool would be true of just about any large office in America. Though there are more female employees overall, there are more male employees at the top of the organization and a greater share of women at the bottom. That results in an average salary for men at the AG’s office of $60,200 a year, and $44,708 for women. Of course, that doesn’t account for differences in position, experience and time with the agency.

But when Fikac narrows it to one group of employees—the 722 assistant attorneys general Abbott oversees—there’s a roughly $6,000 discrepancy in annual salary. ($79,464 for men, $73,649 for women.) Abbott’s office argues, again, that this is based on a difference in experience.

Abbott’s office said the men on average had more than 16 years of being licensed, while the women had nearly 14 years. The men had an average of nearly 104 months of service, while the women had more than 92 months, his office said.

And when the Express-News narrows down the employee pool even further, Fikac finds that rationale doesn’t always hold up.

Of seven different classifications of assistant attorneys general, the average salary for men is higher than the average salary for women in six of them, with the difference ranging from $647 to $4,452. In one category, the average salary for women is $3,512 higher than that for men. In three categories, the women on average either had more years of service or had been licensed longer, or both, despite being paid less, according to figures from the attorney general’s office.

The situation in Abbott’s office, of course, is part of a much wider problem. Cases like these don’t require active prejudice or intentional discrimination (though that sometimes happens too.) Elsewhere in the article, Abbott touts the number of women the agency has hired during his tenure, something he’s probably genuinely proud of.

Pay discrimination happens because of entrenched institutional and personal biases and assumptions—ones the people responsible for hiring and setting salaries may not even be aware of. It doesn’t mean someone said: “I’m going to pay women less.” It’s not because women aren’t “better negotiators,” as the executive director of the state GOP recently said, or because Texas hasn’t amped up “job creation” enough, as the director of the RedState Women PAC recently said (before she said a lot else.) So why not give women more tools and legal leverage to address pay discrimination, to balance out the fact that many institutions—often without malice—value their work less than their male counterparts? Let’s go live to Attorney General Abbott:

Texas Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott would not sign a measure to make it easier for women to bring pay discrimination lawsuits in state court if he were governor, a spokesman said Wednesday, hoping to get past an issue that has dogged the campaign for weeks.

So sayeth the man  today to the Associated Press, after a lengthy period of equivocating on the issue of whether he’d veto it. From a political standpoint, this seems like an incomprehensibly weird move. Will the Davis campaign stop hammering Abbott over this issue now that Abbott has swept away doubt from his position? The opposite! He’s given the Davis campaign—even more than they had before—a clear line to use against Abbott: “Abbott opposes making it easier for women to demand equal pay.” Pay equity is something women really care about. And he did it, apparently, just hours after a major newspaper raised substantial questions about pay equity at his own office.

Until recently, it seemed like the Davis campaign couldn’t stop scoring own goals. But Abbott’s campaign and his supporters—though they have a much, much greater margin of error—have been having a rough go of it since that Ted Nugent campaign event last month. What’s next?

Christopher Hooks is a staff writer covering politics.

Published at 3:47 pm CST