Now let’s go back to those four words spoken by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney during the second presidential debate that ignited an enormous amount of buzz: “binders full of women.” Like the “Big Bird” debate, it took off on wings of its own.
For those who were not among the more than 65 million viewers who tuned into the town hall-style debate, Romney was responding to a question from an audience member who wanted to know what the candidates would do to make women’s salaries more equitable. Romney, referring to appointments he made between January 2002 and July 2004 while Massachusetts governor, said: “An important topic, and one which I learned a great deal about, particularly as I was serving as governor of my state, because I had the chance to pull together a cabinet and all the applicants seemed to be men.”
He continued, “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 they brought us whole binders full of women.”
Within hours, for instance, there were countless “Binders Full of Women” groups and pages on Facebook mostly filled with comments and images from friends and followers mocking Romney’s words. Not that this will put an end to jokes, but Kerry Healey, former Massachusetts Lt. Governor and now advisor for the Romney campaign, clarified the “binders” in interviews on MSNBC and Fox News Network. They were binders full of women’s resumes.
The news media and bloggers jumped all over it too—it was more like a fact-checking tidal wave. Some found issue with the GOP candidate’s claim that he initiated the recruiting effort. Clarification on that came from a statement released by the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus, one of the women’s groups that Romney alluded to. The non-partisan organization said that before the 2002 gubernatorial election, it asked Romney and his opponent, Shannon O’Brien, to commit to “Make best efforts” to ensure that the number of women in appointed state positions is proportionate to the population of women in Massachusetts. Both agreed.
They also had issue with the numbers. Prior to the 2002 election, women made up about 30 percent of appointed senior-level positions in Massachusetts government, according to Women of Talent: Gender and Government: Appointments in Massachusetts, 2002–2007, published in 2007 by the University of Massachusetts Boston. By 2004, they comprised 42 percent, or 14 of 33, of the new appointments. But from 2004 to 2006, the rate decreased to 16 of 64 new appointments – or 25 percent.
The report further states that from September 2002 through July 2004, 61 percent of new appointments did not change the gender of the appointee. “Our analysis shows that a woman was appointed to a position previously held by a woman in 24 percent of the cases, and Governor Romney appointed a man to a position already held by a man in 37 percent of cases,” the report authors wrote, adding, “Newly appointed women replaced men in 18 percent of the positions. However, in 21 percent of the cases, a man replaced a woman.”
There were others that summed up the initiative as affirmative action, pointing out that the Romney campaign has been silent on Fisher v. University of Texas, a case now before the U.S. Supreme Court that challenges a university’s affirmative action policies, and that while governor he tried to quietly do away with affirmative action for women and people of color in Massachusetts government via a 2003 executive order. On July 1, 2004, the Boston-Bay State Banner reported on an appeal from civil rights groups to amend revisions that Romney’s administration pushed through with little notice. “The administration scheduled three public hearings, but apparently did little to publicize them. Attendance at none of the hearings amounted to more than 25 people,” the paper said.
Norma D’Apolito, executive director of Boston-based Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, one of the organizations that asked the governor to do a reverse on the new policy, told Indian Country Today Media Network: “It’s a big thing when you change affirmative action. Our organization and others, I know, did feel very strongly not only about the substance, which was very important—it was a real cutback in the protections—but it was also about the openness and manner in which the changes came about. So we joined with other people and did, in fact, influence that decision that was ultimately changed.”
The Romney campaign team could not be reached for comment.