Mitt Romney, champion of women, is myth in Massachusetts.
Reality for Romney includes elbowing aside acting Governor Jane Swift so he could run.
Reality for Romney means recruiting Kerry Healey to run for lieutenant governor, and then easing her into the background once he won office.
Reality for Romney means having the Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts go public with concerns that the governor’s picks for judicial appointments were virtually all white men — and then having the Romney administration blame its poor record on a lack of qualified female and minority applicants.
During last week’s debate with President Obama, Romney was asked about pay equity for women. He never answered the question and has not given a definite answer on whether he supports the Lilly Ledbetter/Fair Pay Act, which Obama signed into law.
Romney’s answer, instead, had nothing to do with pay, and everything to do with myth — his alleged heroics as an incoming governor who supposedly noticed a lack of female applicants for top government jobs and set about to change that.
It’s true Romney reviewed “binders full of women” — or, more precisely, binders filled with women’s resumes — and appointed some. But according to several women who dealt with the new administration at the time, the governor didn’t ask for those binders. They were presented by a women’s group which planned to give them to the next governor, whether it was Romney or Shannon O’Brien, his Democratic rival. The number of women in his administration dwindled over time, according to a study by the Center for Women in Politics & Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts/Boston.
As governor, Romney’s chief of staff was a woman, Beth Myers, who still plays a prominent role in his presidential campaign. To his credit, Romney allowed Myers, the mother of young children at the time, to work flexible hours.
But that doesn’t automatically translate into female-friendly policies for all women. It doesn’t mean he promoted women who were not in his inner circle. And it doesn’t mean he showed respect for women he viewed as inconvenient obstacles in his path.
When Republicans looked to Romney to run for governor in 2002, he initially promised Swift, the first Bay State woman to make it to the corner office, that he wouldn’t challenge her. Cheered on by supporters who viewed Swift as weak, he changed his mind. No surprise, that’s politics. But why not call her and let her know? He never did.
When he recruited Healey to run for lieutenant governor, women saw it for what it was: a smart political tactic meant to blunt his bullying of Swift and undermine support for Shannon O’Brien, his Democratic opponent.
On the campaign trail, Healey did what her boss wanted, which often meant giving him cover on abortion rights. “There isn’t a dime of difference” between Romney and O’Brien on the issue, she insisted then. Once Romney won the election, he kept Healey out of the spotlight and silent when they disagreed. Yet Healey remains loyal to him and last week put out a statement that perpetuates the myth. It praises Romney for hiring “the best, male or female” but never mentions a single policy he backed.
During an October 2002 debate with O’Brien, Romney described his opponent’s demeanor as “unbecoming.” At least they shared the same stage. In September, he showed up for a forum sponsored by Boston businesswomen only after the women assured him O’Brien would not be in the same room when he spoke.
Halfway through Romney’s first term, the Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts publicly complained that of the 19 judicial nominations Romney made during his first two years as governor, 17 were men and two were women.
The Romney administration blamed the governor’s poor record on a lack of qualified candidates. Apparently, Romney forgot about those binders full of women — just like he later forgot his pledge to support Roe v. Wade. As a presidential candidate he has said he would cut federal funding for Planned Parenthood and appoint justices who would overturn the Supreme Court decision.
That’s reality, not myth. It should make women everywhere question what it means for them.Joan Vennochi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at Joan_Vennochi.