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Minn. lawmaker: Fair-pay bill makes women look like 'whiners'

Republican State Rep. Andrea Kieffer told advocates at a hearing that bills supporting women's economic equality made women "look like whiners."
Supporters listen to U.S. President Barack Obama as he addresses the Women's Leadership Forum at the Grand Hyatt Hotel May 19, 2011 in Washington, DC.
Supporters listen to U.S. President Barack Obama as he addresses the Women's Leadership Forum at the Grand Hyatt Hotel May 19, 2011 in Washington, DC.

A package of bills in Minnesota that could provide greater economic equality and help shrink the gender pay gap make women seem like "whiners," a local Republican lawmaker recently said.

State Rep. Andrea Kieffer told advocates gathered at a hearing for the Women's Economic Security Act -- a bill that aims to provide women the same opportunities in Minnesota's economy as men -- that they were making women "look like whiners," according to a recording posted on the Internet by the nonprofit Alliance for a Better Minnesota, and initially reported by the Huffington Post.

"We heard several bills last week about women's issues, and I kept thinking to myself: 'These bills are putting us backwards in time. We are losing the respect that we so dearly want in the workplace by bringing up all these special bills for women, and almost making us look like whiners,'" Kieffer said last Wednesday.

The Women's Economic Security Act, currently moving through the Democratically-controlled Minnesota Legislature, encompasses 17 bills that include provisions for raising the state minimum wage from $6.15 to $9.50, enhanced sick leave and family leave for women, increased access to affordable childcare, protections from workplace discrimination, and incentives for women to become entrepreneurs in traditionally male-dominated industries.

Neither Kieffer's office nor the Republican party of Minnesota immediately responded to msnbc's telephone and e-mail requests for further comment.

The Alliance for a Better Minnesota posted the audio file to its website and created a corresponding petition in response to Kieffer's comments. Members continue to defend their belief that there is nothing "whiny" about fair pay and equal opportunities for women in Minnesota. They hope their efforts will influence Kieffer and other Minnesota Republicans to support the legislation.

"I think her comments are insulting and frustrating. Demanding that women get equal pay for equal work and fair shots in the economy isn’t whining. Women deserve the same economic opportunities as men, and it's really as simple as that," Emily Bisek, communications director for the group, told msnbc.

Minnesota is one of four states that currently set their minimum wage rate below the federal level of $7.25. Nationwide, women made 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man in 2012, according to the Institute for Women's Policy Research.

Kieffer's comments last week aligned with recent statements by her GOP peers, which have also drawn national attention to the Republican Party.

"I wasn't completely shocked or surprised. This seems to be a pattern of really sort of ignorant remarks by Republican lawmakers in this state as well as around the country. I think what we're seeing is these legislators and other Republican elected officials really, truly showing their stripes," Ken Martin, party chair of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, told msnbc.

The battle for equal pay continues to be a dividing issue in states around the country, including Texas. Cari Christman, executive director of a political action committee for Texas Republican women, last weekend struggled to explain the GOP's opposition to fair-pay laws. Women don’t need measures like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, she argued in a television interview, mostly because "women are extremely busy." In an attempt to clarify her counterpart's comments, Beth Cubriel, executive director of the Texas Republican Party, this week explained that men are better negotiators than women.

It has been one year since the Republican National Committee called on the party to rethink its relationship with women, gays, and minorities. Reince Priebus, chairman of the RNC, recently acknowledged the GOP's lack of progress on some of those goals.

"They say that out of one side of their mouth, and their actions speak louder than their words," Martin said. "More comments like this that continue to come out start to alienate voters that they're trying to appeal to."

"Republicans across the nation are having similar comments," Bisek said. "And I just think that the Republicans are out of touch with the economic struggles that women face every day."

A hearing is set for Thursday in Minnesota to discuss part of the Women's Economic Security Act in the Jobs and Economic Development Finance and Policy Committee.