Every time I think this legislative session could not possibly get any stranger or more shocking, my Republican colleagues do something else to surprise me. On February 21st, in a stunning move, Assembly Republicans voted to repeal Wisconsin’s Equal Pay Act. That's right, instead of passing bills to create jobs, Assembly Republicans repealed the law that ensured that women cannot get paid less than a man for doing the same job. Women in Wisconsin still only make 77 cents on the dollar compared to men.
As the Assembly debated this bill, I found myself thinking a lot about my three young children, especially my two daughters. My wife Rebecca and I named our daughters after pioneering women: Eleanor Roosevelt Mason is three years old and Amelia Earhart Mason is 18 months old. We hoped that the connection to their namesakes would allow our daughters to pursue their own way forward. We thought that it would be such historical figures from a bygone era who would teach our daughters the surely now well-settled lesson that women are capable of doing work that men do – in politics, aviation, or anything else – for equal pay.
I am disappointed to know that years from now when I describe my time in the Wisconsin Legislature to my children, I will have to tell them that in the year 2012 it was actually a question for debate whether women deserve equal pay for equal work. I will have to tell my daughters – and my son – that I know it’s hard to believe, but it was not in 1952 or 1972 that the state Assembly was debating women’s equal protection under the law, but the year 2012.
I’m also stunned to realize that for Wisconsin’s Republican Party, it has now become a mainstream view that women do not deserve legal protection to ensure they are treated fairly for their remuneration. This Republican extreme view of liberty leaves no room for equality. This philosophy that government should never require employers to do anything – pay a minimum wage, ensure basic workplace safety provisions, or allow for family medical leave – has now been stretched so far to the extreme that it now even includes the view that women are inferior employees undeserving of equal protection under the law. This view is out of touch with Wisconsin’s values.
As a result of the events of the last year, I have already steeled myself to tell my children how, in 2011, Scott Walker divided our beloved state as it had never been divided before. I have been preparing to tell my children how Scott Walker destroyed union rights in the state that first created many of these rights. I cannot believe I now will also have to tell my children that part of my public service in Wisconsin’s Legislature required me to fight for such a basic principle as equal pay for women in the year 2012.
By repealing Wisconsin’s Equal Pay Act, Republicans have set Wisconsin back decades in our quest to recognize and advance women’s economic worth and equality, and they have missed yet another opportunity to advance Wisconsin’s proud tradition of justice and fairness.