The Arizona House Democrats made history on April 27, 2017. Through a ninja parliamentary procedure, we forced members of the Arizona House of Representatives to voice their opinion on equal rights for women and, specifically, on ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).
I made a motion for immediate third reading of HCR2012 ratification; equal rights amendment, which temporarily caused muted chaos at the dais. ERA backers in the Democratic Caucus had conferred with the rules attorneys and the Clerk in advance of the motion; so, we knew we were on solid parliamentary grounds.
Predictably, Speaker J.D. Mesnard offered a substitute amendment to recess, which stopped the up-or-down vote on the ERA. Democrats had anticipated this move on the chess board. By calling for a roll call vote on the substitute amendment, everyone opposed to the up-or-down vote on the ERA was put on record as stopping the vote. (Watch video clip of the motion, the quiet chaos that ensued, Mesnard’s motion, and my speech here. It will start automatically after a pause.)
During the vote explanation exercise, nearly every Democrat and several Republicans stood up and gave their opinion on the ERA, equal rights for women, equal pay for equal work, equal protection for women under the Constitution, the nuances of Article V of the Constitution, and the reasons why American women need the ERA (or not).
“I want to clarify that a vote for this substitute amendment to recess is really an up-or-down vote on the Equal Rights Amendment, ” I started.
“The Equal Rights Amendment is a simple, one-sentence statement: Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex.
“Members, there is a dramatic wage gap in the US between men and women. You may have heard the statistics that overall women earn 77 cents on the dollar compared to men. Over a lifetime that translates to a $500,000 in lost wages for the average working woman. The wage gap has narrowed only 13 cents per hour since 1980, I continued.
“At that rate, Arizona women will achieve pay equity in 2044—29 years from now. That’s actually good compared to women in the deep South who have to wait 80-90 years before the wage gap closes. That’s unacceptable. Inaction on the Equal Rights Amendment is unacceptable.”
For the Democrats, the argument focused on equal pay for equal work, the inherent unfairness of the deeply ingrained wage disparity in the US, and the need for equal protection for women under the Constitution.
Many of the Democrats talked about their daughters and granddaughters, as I did. My granddaughter, who started kindergarten this year, will be 35 before she attains pay equity if the wage gap continues to shrink at the current glacial pace. Although many of the Republican men have daughters– some as many as seven daughters– all of them voted for avoiding an up-or-down vote on the Equal Rights Amendment. Of the eight Republican women, only Reps. Heather Carter and Michelle Ugenti-Rita were brave enough to buck their party and vote for equality and women’s rights.
As he talked about equality for his baby daughter, Rep. Reginold Bolding decried the deplorable wages for African American women, roughly 67 cents on the dollar compared to white men.
“Arizona has the opportunity to say we stand with women,” Bolding concluded.
Saying “I’m not being political, I’m being Constitutional,” Rep. Bob Thorpe, himself an Article V Constitutional Convention fan, suggested that women should “start over” with a new amendment since the deadline has passed. (Now that we are two states away from ratification, Of course, it’s time to move the goal post.) A few times in his speech, Thorpe apologized for “not knowing the facts.” Fun Fact: the long-running calls for the Constitutional Convention and the call for the ERA are both covered by Article V of the Constitution. Article V does not give Congress the power to set deadlines on the amendment process.
Rep. Athena Salman did have the facts about pay inequity from the New York Times: As Women Take Over a Male-Dominated Field, the Pay Drops.
“Women outnumber men in low-paying jobs like teaching and social work,” said Salman. Furthermore, pay declines when women start doing particular jobs. This is “inherently unfair.”
“Women’s work is not valued,” she continued. “We’ve been waiting for a very long time [for equality].”
Rep. Isela Blanc pointed out that Arizona has a long, progressive history when it comes to women’s rights. Thanks to Arizona’s Progressive founders, our state gave women the right to vote before the rest of the country. We also honor Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor as one of our own.
Native American and Latino legislators talked about the lagging wages for their groups. Latinas make 55 cents on the dollar compared to white men, and Native American women make 58 cents on the dollar. Reps. Tony Navarrete and Eric Descheenie brought the issue home when they described the financial struggles of their Moms. Both men were raised by single mothers. A vote for equal pay for women is a vote for family stability. Low-wage jobs are dominated by women.
“Members, let’s join together today to tell the women of Arizona that we value their work and that they deserve equality,” I challenged the Republicans.
“Let’s make history and become the next state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. Nevada ratified the ERA in March. The Illinois Legislature has been debating it this week.
“There’s no time limit on equality.
“The time is now for the Equal Rights Amendment.”
I want to thank everyone who helped make this happen. My seat-mate Rep. Randy Friese came up with the ninja parliamentary move. On the day that Nevada passed the ERA, he and I agreed that we wanted to find a way to push the ERA to the floor and get the Republicans on record regarding equal rights for women. I also want to thank my Fiesty Freshmen sisters Rep. Isela Blanc, Athema Salman, Kelli Butler, Mitzi Epstein, Kirsten Engel, and Winona Benally who said, “Hell, yes, let’s do this!” The entire Democratic Caucus stepped up to the plate to help out with speeches, social media and support– not to mention color-coordinated purple and white outfits. Also, the Rules attorneys and other staff advised us and made sure we did our ninja move correctly. This was a team effort. Thanks, everyone. Otra vez? You betcha.
Reality check: Women do make up 51% of the population, and we vote.
Equal Rights Amendment effort falls flat in Arizona Legislature (Arizona Republic)
GOP lawmakers stymie bid to vote on Equal Rights Amendment (Capitol Times)
It’s time Arizona recognizes equal rights for women (Capitol Times, 2016)
Illinois Senate takes up the ERA today, whither Arizona? (Blog for Arizona)
Arizona House recesses rather than debate the Equal Rights Amendment (Blog for Arizona)
Equal Rights Amendment Deserves Hearing In Arizona Legislature (Arizona Daily Independent)
Arizona House Republicans Block Equal Rights For Women (Arizona Daily Independent)