The truth about Romney's "binders full of women"

MassGAP, the coalition responsible for getting more women appointed to state government, debunks Romney's claim


Alex Seitz-Wald
October 17, 2012 9:05PM (UTC)

In the moment memed round the world, Mitt Romney said in last night’s debate that when he was governor of Massachusetts he had his staff compile “binders of women” for him to pore over in order to find qualified candidates for top jobs in his administrations. As we noted this morning, a Boston journalist has already pointed out that that’s not true, and now we have some more evidence that Romney is misremembering the history.

First, here’s how Romney told the story last night:

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And I -- and I went to my staff, and I said, how come all the people for these jobs are -- are all men? They said, well, these are the people that have the qualifications. And I said, well, gosh, can’t we -- can’t we find some -- some women that are also qualified? And -- and so we -- we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women’s groups and said, can you help us find folks? And I brought us whole binders full of women.

So, Romney 1) started looking for people to recruit, 2) realized they were all men, 3) asked his staff to find some qualified women, 4) enlisted some women’s groups in the effort, who brought him the “binders full of women,” some of whom he 5) hired.

Unfortunately for Romney, that’s not how it actually went down. Here’s how the Quincy Patriot Ledger reported it on Nov. 20, 2002, under the headline, "Project seeks high-level state jobs for women." This was just a couple of weeks after Romney won the election and before he was sworn in:

MassGAP [a bipartisan coalition of women’s groups] formed in August and created task forces in seven selected areas to seek out women and encourage them to submit resumes for high-level state positions. The recommendations are being given tomorrow to Lt. Gov.-elect Kerry Healey, who will present them to Romney's transition team.... The project has a commitment from Romney that he will make his best efforts to ensure the number of women appointed to high-level positions "more fairly represents the proportion of women in the population,"  [Massachusetts Women's Political Caucus executive director Roni] Thaler said. [...]

The project prepared research on the number of men and women in top-level positions... Some 100 names are being submitted with at least five names in each of the seven government categories.... The project began last summer with a mailing to 700 women's organizations throughout the state urging them to reach out to members.  Women not affiliated with women's organizations were also urged to apply.

So, here’s how it actually went down: 1) MassGap wanted to address the dearth of women in senior-level positions in state government, so they 2) began looking for people in the summer of 2001, long before 3) getting Romney to commit to appointing an equitable number of women. They then 4) submitted those names (it's unclear how 100 names would require “binders full of women”) to Romney’s transition team, which then 5) hired some of them.

For what it's worth, a Nexis search of "binders," "women" and "Mitt Romney" from that time period turns up only two stories -- one about Romney's efforts to trim the budget by giving his cabinet heads three-ring binders about their agencies, and another about the Romney campaign's media monitoring practices.

Romney is either misremembering or misrepresenting, but either way, he's wrong.

UPDATE: And now straight from the horse's mouth. MassGAP, the women's coalition responsible for the effort to get more women appointed to state government, gives the Washington Post a statement saying Romney has it wrong -- they, and not Romney, initiated the process. The group also notes that female appointments actually fell off during Romney's tenure.

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Alex Seitz-Wald

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