Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker spent this week trying to convince women voters that he isn’t as extreme on reproductive rights as his record shows. Between a misleading ad about new restrictions on abortion and dodging questions about his anti-choice position even in cases of rape or incest, Walker is clearly trying to redefine his stance on women’s health as he enters the final weeks of his campaign against Democrat Mary Burke.
But Walker’s dismal record on policies that affect women goes beyond just abortion. From the time the Republican governor was first elected in 2010, the aspiring 2016 candidate has championed ideas that have dire consequences for the state’s female residents, young and old alike. From budget cuts to education to harsh voter ID laws, here are six policies Scott Walker has supported that have hurt Wisconsin women.
Cut reproductive health access: Walker signed a 2013 law that would require women seeking abortions to get ultrasounds and require abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where they perform the procedure. The law has been blocked by a judge while a challenge works its way through the courts. But Walker’s budget policies have forced even reproductive health clinics that don’t provide abortions to close. Five have shuttered under Walker, whose 2011-2013 budget cut more than $1 million in funding for Planned Parenthood clinics. Walker also tried unsuccessfully to repeal the state’s contraceptive equity law in 2011, which requires insurance companies to cover birth control.
Refused to raise the minimum wage: Women are far more likely to hold low wage jobs than men; nationwide, women make up two-thirds of the 20 million low wage workers, in industries like home health care, child care, fast food service, and retail. On Thursday, a new report on the state of workers in Wisconsin found that one in four workers in the state is living in poverty. That works out to approximately 700,000 people earning less than a living wage, which federal standards set at $11.36 an hour. And Wisconsin women are more than twice as likely to hold a job that pays less than $10.10 an hour than men.
But on October 7, the Walker administration shot down a complaint from a group of workers trying to increase the minimum wage from $7.25. An official from the state’s Department of Workforce Development said Tuesday, “The department has determined that there is no reasonable cause to believe that the wages paid to the complainants are not a living wage,” in part because some people in poverty receive public assistance.
A spokeswoman for the governor said Tuesday that Walker is focused on creating jobs that pay more than the minimum wage rather than raising wages for existing jobs. Walker promised in 2010 to create 250,000 private sector jobs, a promise he has fallen far short of fulfilling. Approximately the same number of women in the state hold low-wage jobs, according to a report by the Wisconsin Budget Project.
Repealed equal pay: The year before Scott Walker was elected, the state legislature passed a law that made it easier for victims of wage discrimination to take their cases to court. In 2012, with Walker's hard-line conservative Republican allies in control of the state government, the law was repealed. Women in Wisconsin earn 75 cents for every dollar a man makes, according to the Wisconsin Institute for Women’s Health, two cents less than the national average.
Supports drug tests for aid seekers: “My belief is that we shouldn’t be paying for them to sit on the couch, watching TV or playing Xbox,” Governor Walker said in September.
This proposal isn’t so much an item on the Walker wish list as it is a way to polish his “tough on the poor” credentials in his quest for the Republican Presidential nomination. Federal law prohibits drug testing for people seeking food stamps, which means the idea is unlikely to become law.
Food assistance recipients are hardly idle; nearly half of all food stamp benefits go to children, and some 40% live in a household where at least one person is working. According to a Pew Research Center survey, women are twice as likely as men to rely on food stamps at some point in their lives, which means drug tests for food aid would be an intrusive and costly extra step for parents trying to feed hungry children.
While Walker said he would be willing to challenge the government over his proposal, he has not taken steps to make his vision of drug tests for the unemployed and hungry a reality.
Voter ID laws affect women: A federal court ruled that a controversial and extremely restrictive voter ID law will be in effect for the 2014 election, a move that is almost certain to create chaos at the ballot box on November 4. Data shows that women are more likely than men to lack the kind of identification needed to meet new voting requirements. Obtaining proper ID can require costly documents, and women are more likely than men to be poor. Women are also more likely to have to deal with name changes in the wake of marriages and divorces, and make up a greater proportion of the millions of elderly Americans without ID.
In Wisconsin specifically, research conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee found that 59% of Hispanic women, 49% of African American women, and 17% of white women were without a valid driver’s license in 2002.
Anti-Union policies are anti-woman polices: Walker grabbed national attention in 2011 when he championed a bill that gutted public sector union rights. It’s a move that inspired massive protests and an attempted recall, and one that jumpstarted his national ambitions. Teaching, nursing, and social work are all public sector fields that are overwhelmingly female, and women account for more than half of all public sector union members. Walker’s most famous act as governor was to slash union membership and cut labor protections for thousands of working women in the state.