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Thursday, October 18, 2012

As Governor, Romney\'s Eagerness to Hire Women Faded

On Tuesday night, Mitt Romney moved to build his support among female voters by boasting during the presidential debate that he named more women to senior positions as Massachusetts governor than did the governors of any other state.

It was perhaps not his best moment. By Wednesday morning, skeptics pounced on his claim, citing a 2007 academic study that concluded that when Mr. Romney left office in December 2006, the share of women in top policy-making jobs was actually smaller than it was under his Republican predecessor.

Moreover, women's-rights advocates said that Mr. Romney had falsely claimed to be the inspiration for promoting women to high positions when in fact a women's political organization had conceived and largely executed it.

After badly trailing President Obama among women, Mr. Romney has recently racked up impressive gains in their support in some polls, and the battle for the female vote has emerged as a crucial factor in next month's election.

In Tuesday's debate, Mr. Romney seized on an audience question about equal pay for women to cite his record in Massachusetts, where he was governor from January 2003 to December 2006.

“I had the - the chance to pull together a cabinet, and all the applicants seemed to be men. And I - and I went to my staff, and I said, how come all the people for these jobs are - are all men?” he said. “I went to a number of women's groups and said, can you help us find folks? And they brought us whole binders full of - of women. I was proud of the fact that after I staffed my cabinet and my senior staff that the University of New York in Albany did a survey of all 50 states and concluded that mine had more women in senior leadership positions than any other state in America.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Romney's assertion that he approached women's groups and accumulated “whole binders full of women” drew much of the heat, as well as guffaws over Mr. Romney's strained syntax.

Asked to comment on Mr. Romney's claim that he initiated the effort to promote women in government, and to list some of the women's groups that he said he had approached, a spokeswoman for the Romney campaign said that as a new governor, Mr. Romney “worked with MassGAP to find the best qualified women for top positions in Massachusetts government. The efforts resulted in Massachusetts having the most women in top positions in the entire country.”

The actual sequence of events was different, according to Liz Levin, the chairwoman of the Massachusetts Government Appointments Project, a women's lobbying group known as MassGAP.

The group, an offshoot of the state Women's Political Caucus, lobbied both candidates in the 2002 governor's race to make a best effort to raise the share of women in senior government posts, and to work with the group after the election to discuss new hires.

Both Mr Romney an d his opponent agreed, Ms. Levin said, and after Mr, Romney's November victory he appointed his lieutenant governor, Kerry Healey, to work with MassGAP.

“He did not come to us first,” Ms. Levin said. But “when we made the outreach, he certainly was very accommodating, and Kerry Healey worked with us extremely well.”

The so-called binders of women - big, black three-ring binders, stuffed to bursting with résumés of potential female appointees - were prepared by committees of MassGAP volunteers and delivered to the statehouse, said Carol Hardy-Fanta, a senior researcher at the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.

And by July 2004, 18 months into Mr. Romney's term, women had been named to 42 percent of all policy-making posts, according to a 2007 study by the University of Massachusetts-Boston center. A similar University of Albany study - the one cited by Mr. Romney in the debate - used differe nt methodology and pegged the share at 50 percent - 10 of Mr. Romney's first 20 appointments.

“His record, as we measured it, looks darned good,” said Judith Saidel, a professor of public policy at the University of Albany's Rockefeller College who directed the February 2004 study.

Measured over the long run, however, that record is considerably less impressive. When Mr. Romney's Republican predecessor, Jane Swift, left office in December 2003, 30 percent of Massachusetts policy posts were held by women, according to the 2007 University of Massachusetts-Boston study. While Mr. Romney pushed the share to 42 percent in his first 18 months, it steadily declined thereafter. And a month before he left office in November 2006, it stood at 27.6 percent - below his predecessor's level.

Ms. Saidel of the University of Albany called that “discouraging.” Ms. Hardy-Fanta, who worked on the 2007 University of Massachusetts-Boston study, said she gave Mr. Romney credit for good intentions, but not for following up on his pledge.

“I don't doubt he wanted to do the right thing,” she said. “But when the candidates and elected officials are in the spotlight and there is accountability and they know they're being looked at, there is more of an effort. And once that accountability and those reminders that this is important aren't there, the old boys network falls back into place. And they only know men.”

Though Mr. Romney clearly misspoke, it is interesting to note that he claimed to have appointed more women to top jobs than any other governor, when the two studies measured percentages, not raw numbers.

Were you to use raw numbers, you'd find that 21 governors named more women to top posts than did Mr. Romney, Ms. Saidel said, largely because many states give governors sweeping power to appoint heads of agencies and committees, rather than delegate that power to legislatures or independent boards. Those governor s often chose more women than did Mr. Romney, but they chose even more men, putting them behind him in the overall share of female appointees.

Kitty Bennett contributed reporting.

This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: October 18, 2012

An earlier version of this post incorrectly rendered a quote from Mitt Romney in Tuesday night's debate. Mr. Romney said that women's groups provided "binders full" of candidates, not that he provided them.