Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe on Thursday called for tougher penalties on employers who discriminate against women, reviving President Obama's 2012 campaign strategy in which the GOP was portrayed as being at war with women.
McAuliffe proposed legislation that would force companies caught paying men higher wages than women to give victims triple their unpaid wages. Current Virginia law puts the penalty at double the wages.
"It puts some real teeth into the law," McAuliffe said. "I hope this will send a strong message to women that as Virginians we want their talents in our workforce, and to businesses, that we've attracted and retained the best and brightest workforce with fair laws and strong pro-business policies."
The proposal from McAuliffe comes days after a new study found that four in 10 women are now the primary breadwinners in their households. It also follows the 2012 campaign cycle, when Obama put equal pay at the center of his re-election efforts.
Obama repeatedly criticized Republican nominee Mitt Romney for failing to say if he supported the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a law that made it easier for women to pursue wage discrimination lawsuits. McAuliffe has repeatedly sought to paint his Republican foe, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, as an anti-woman candidate.
For his part, Cuccinelli spent Thursday taking a victory lap after successfully pressuring the U.S. Treasury Department to turn over $115 million it owed the state. Cuccinelli held a press conference Wednesday to chastise federal officials for not giving Virginia its share of a $1.5 billion legal settlement with pharmaceutical giant Abbott Laboratories.
Republicans said the efforts by Cuccinelli demonstrated the type of leadership that McAuliffe, a career fundraiser, can't match.
"This attorney general and this office has really been focused on Medicaid fraud," said Del. Greg Habeeb, R-Salem. "[McAuliffe] takes credit for things he hasn't done."
U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine's office said the Democratic lawmaker was aware of the situation on May 24 and was told by the Treasury Department that the issue was likely to be resolved this week.
In a letter to Cuccinelli on Wednesday, the Treasury Department indicated that it had been working with the attorney general's office for months to resolve the issue and needed Cuccinelli to first lay out how the state planned to spend the "windfall" of cash it was receiving.
But Republican House Speaker Bill Howell said Treasury officials couldn't confirm speaking with Kaine's office. Howell also said politics may have been involved, adding that "it's shocking that they would notify [the Democrat] Kaine's office and not the [Republican] attorney general's office."