Helen Aguirre Ferre

Mean what you say, and women’s votes will follow

Tuesday night was ladies’ night in our nation’s capital. Women make up half the work force and more than half of registered voters. So it should not be surprising that both parties are determined to get their attention and maybe their support in light of the all-important mid-term elections.

It started with President Obama’s State of the Union address, where his call to end the wage gap between men and women received a standing ovation. “You know, today, women make up about half our work force, but they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, that is an embarrassment. Women deserve equal pay for equal work.”

Can anyone really disagree with that?

Maria Shriver co-sponsored a new report with the Center for American Progress, The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink, demonstrating that women in general earn almost one-quarter less than their male counterparts and for minority women the gap is even wider. According to this report, a black woman earns 64 cents, and a Hispanic woman 55 cents for every dollar a man earns.

Some will justify it arguing lack of job experience, education or discrimination, but it is also a cultural issue. Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg’s book — and soon to be movie — Lean In is pretty straightforward in arguing that corporate success requires certain skill sets many women lack. Do not look to men for help, it will not happen. Just look at the White House.

The American Enterprise Institute did a comparative study of the median annual salaries of White House employees and found a 13-percent gender pay gap. The White House payroll shows that 229 women earned $65,000 compared to 233 men who earned $75,000. The president is right, that is embarrassing.

Republicans also are trying to engage women, choosing two, Washington state Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Florida’s Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, to give the rebuttal in both English and Spanish. McMorris was smart and collected, a far cry from Marco Rubio’s water-bottle grab. Her personal story of the American Dream rang true: Only in America can a girl “who worked at the McDonald’s drive-thru to help pay for college be with you from the United States Capitol.”

And yet this fifth-term congresswoman recognized that the most important things that happen in the country do not occur in Washington D.C., but in our homes, where parents are “kissing the kids goodnight, figuring out how to pay the bills, getting ready for tomorrow’s doctor’s visit, waiting to hear from those you love serving in Afghanistan or searching for that big job interview.” McMorris, like Ros-Lehtinen, used the right tone, stressing that Americans are not defined by their limits but by their potential. It is the first real attempt by Republicans to rebrand the party with an upbeat theme that calms and inspires all at once.

Someone has noticed that everyone is fatigued by the political rancor; congeniality is the new D.C. state of mind. President Obama picked up on this with a comfortable tone in his speech that makes you think bipartisanship is in. But don’t bet on it — his pen is poised to write up executive orders at will. He did, however, drop the “war against women” theme focusing instead on the important role of working moms. He needs them. If the mid-term elections are a referendum on Obama and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) which is polling poorly, his presidency will be permanently weakened.

Polls show that 65 percent of Americans do not think the president is capable of making the right decision. In fact, Obama’s approval ratings are as low as George W. Bush’s early in his second term. Women have been important supporters of Democrats in the last few elections. Will they support them now? It depends on the choices before them.

In a divided country, who votes makes a difference. Women voters want deeds over words. If you are a public servant, act like one who is actually serving those you say you represent. Promote and pass legislation that strengthens families with a sound economy, education reform that includes greater options for school choice and fixing ACA (if at all possible) will go a long way to restore faith in our leadership. The plain and honest word is always appreciated. Find the way to a woman’s heart and her mind, and you will likely capture her vote as well.