Updated April 23, 1 p.m. ET
Former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, who is now one of the Democratic candidates hoping to unseat Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) in the recall against him, is making a renewed push on the issue of pay equity for women.
Walker recently signed a repeal of a state equal pay law passed in 2009, which enabled women to bring wage discrimination lawsuits in state courts rather than only in the more onerous federal system. The announcement of the repeal bill having been signed into law was released on Good Friday, after the bill had been signed the previous day, sparking Democratic accusations that the administration was attempting to bury the story.
On a conference call Tuesday with two female supporters in the state legislature, state Reps. Christine Sinicki of Milwaukee and Chris Taylor of Madison, Falk announced that the trio was sending a letter to Walker, asking for an explanation of his reasons for repealing the 2009 law — citing a lack of examples of any filed lawsuits that were actually clogging the legal system, as Republicans have claimed.
“The fact that we even have to have this conversation in the year 2012 is really the most astonishing,” said Falk. “I don’t know any men who would want their wives, or their sisters, or their daughters, to be treated unfairly.”
Recent polls have shown Falk in a second place among four candidates in the Democratic primary, behind Milwaukee Mayor and 2010 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tom Barrett. The Democratic primary will be held on May 8, and the general election on June 5.
Falk, Sinicki and Taylor argued that the law was not discouraging employers, but was instead making progress in improving the pay-gap by acting as a deterrent against potential abuses. They also took particular aim at Republican state Sen. Glenn Grothman, who has recently said of the gender pay-gap: “You could argue that money is more important for men. I think a guy in their first job, maybe because they expect to be a breadwinner someday, may be a little more money-conscious. To attribute everything to a so-called bias in the workplace is just not true.”
Taylor hearkened back to her own career path, including her time working her way through law school and providing for her herself: “I didn’t get a 78 percent discount.”
TPM asked Falk what factors and experiences she could bring that would make her the more effective candidate on these issues, both in the Democratic primary and the general election.
“That I have spent my life standing up for the little person, and particularly having to break ceilings that haven’t been broken before,” Falk said. “When I started out as an environmental lawyer 35 years ago, I was typically the only woman in the room arguing on behalf of our natural resources, and being the only woman in the courtroom. I then ran for county executive 15 years ago. people wondered, is the county ready to elected a woman — I faced many examples of that concern.”
She also concluded: “Those breaking through barriers, of being the first, is something I have done all my life. It isn’t because I choose to; it isn’t because I ask to; it’s because of where we are in history. And this is the year in 2012, and we may be recalling a governor for only the third time in our nation’s history — and we might make history in another way, as well.”
Late Update: In response to Falk’s attack, Walker campaign spokeswoman Ciara Matthews sent TPM this statement:
Kathleen Falk should be ashamed of the outright, blatant lies she is telling which only serve to distort Governor Walker’s record. It is still illegal in the state of Wisconsin to discriminate against women when it comes to pay, and Kathleen Falk knows this. The law Governor Walker repealed was a bill passed in 2009 that incentivized trial lawyers to sue job creators, including female business owners, in this state.
Ed note: Reporter Eric Kleefeld was a volunteer in 2002 for Tom Barrett’s gubernatorial campaign in the Democratic primary that year, in which Kathleen Falk was also a candidate. He has had no additional political involvement with Barrett since that time.