In Kentucky, one Republican is standing firm against the concept of gender discrimination. Todd Lally, insurgent GOP nominee for Congress in the state’s 3rd Congressional District, says he’s never personally seen women be discriminated against — and therefore, he says, gender discrimination may not exist at all.
Even in this so-called Year Of The Woman in politics, the vast majority of women casting ballots this year will find themselves choosing between two men to represent them in elected office. And in Kentucky, the choice includes one man who seems to base his entire knowledge of women’s professional lives on the experience of his very successful wife and his own workplace observations.
The Democrat in the race, incumbent Rep. John Yarmuth, is making hay out of Tally’s position, recently calling him out at a televised debate with facts and figures about women in Kentucky workplaces. Lally’s response at the debate was essentially to shrug his shoulders and again say he doesn’t know from gender discrimination.
The question of gender roles in Kentucky came up in an Oct. 11 debate between the 3rd Congressional District candidates on the state’s public television network. The topic was raised by one of those female voters both Lally and Yarmuth will be relying on to win Nov. 2. Here’s how that sounded:
It is well known that we are the third-worst state for women to live in the nation. We rank at the bottom third of the nation in terms of health and well-being, equity, political leadership and education. I’d like to ask each gentleman what they have in their platform to address these disparities?
Lally offered his take on gender disparity, which can be broken down thusly:
• My wife is rich and successful, therefore all women can be.
• There is no such thing as gender disparity.
• I know there is no such thing as gender disparity because I have never seen it.
• If there is such a thing as gender disparity, it’s up to women to deal with it.
Here’s what Lally said:
I look at women’s issues like any other issue. We have equal rights in this country, we have fought — women have fought very hard for those equal rights. Uh, it’s up to them. I mean my wife is a working woman, she works very, very hard and she’s been very successful. I’ve not seen any barriers in her career and I don’t believe that exists.
Watch the exchange from the debate, as clipped by Democrats in Kentucky (Watch the whole debate here):
Yarmuth responded by heralding Congress’ passage of the Lily Ledbetter Act and suggesting the law — which proponents say will help to address pay disparity issues — has a job to do.
“Women do face some structural discrimination in the workplace,” Yarmuth said.
At a followup debate Oct. 19, Yarmuth took a similar position and attacked Lally over his Oct. 11 comments. Yarmuth listed what he said were several facts about district businesses, including the a statement that “out of 40 companies here, only four have female CEOs” and that “nationally, one out of every three women is sexually harassed in the workplace.” He added that, “a 25-year-old with a Bachelor’s degree — a woman — makes $40,000 when a man in the same situation makes $60,000.”
“How in the world, given all that data, can you say there’s no gender discrimination in the workplace?” Yarmuth asked.
Lally responded by claiming he’s never seen any discrimination against women in his career in the military — he’s a former Air Force pilot and currently serves as a Lt. Col. in the state Air National Guard — or in his day job as a pilot for UPS.
And as for the whole issue of equal pay for equal education, Lally’s not sure what to think.
“Now, if you take two — a woman and a man who both have a Bachelor’s degree, that’s kind of vague,” he said. “Is the male’s degree in electrical engineering and the female’s is in education? Are these like degrees? Like careers? So I need to know more about that.”
Lally did allow that, maybe, gender equity issues could be real.
“I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, it may exist, I mean surely we wouldn’t be talking about this issue if it didn’t exist,” he said. “I just have never seen it in my career and my life.”
Watch the exchange (full debate can be viewed here):
I caught up with Lally’s campaign manager, Jay Hill, for some more perspective. Hill told me on the phone this morning that Lally thinks “any kind of discrimination is abhorrent,” and concedes that gender discrimination is “an issue everywhere.”
“He just hasn’t seen it,” Hill said.
I asked if Lally had any legislative plans to attack the problem — Hill said that talk from Yarmuth was essentially a smokescreen to hide the real issues of “jobs and the economy” which Hill suggested did not include a focus on gender pay equity.
“In this election cycle, it’s been a very normal tack for the very liberal Democrats to try to provide a distraction from the jobs the economy and focus more on social issues,” Hill told me. “And where social issues are extremely important, they’re just not the focus of this election cycle.”
I asked Hill if pay equity was a social issue or an economic issue.
“I would just say it’s not jobs/economy,” he said.
The latest poll of the race shows Yarmuth leading Lally 50-46 among likely voters.