We already know that Mitt Romney’s claim in Tuesday’s presidential debate to have led a process that produced “binders full of women” for top government jobs was so awkwardly phrased as to have spawned an Internet meme that’s gone viral and then some.
But according to reports, it was also a misrepresentation of what happened—and one that gave Romney far more credit for taking the initiative than he deserved.
Romney was asked last night about his views on pay equity for women. Instead of answering, he talked about his efforts as governor of Massachusetts to hire women:
I had the chance to pull together a cabinet and all the applicants seemed to be men. And I went to my staff, and I said, “How come all the people for these jobs are all men.” They said, “Well, these are the people that have the qualifications.” And I said, “Well, gosh, can’t we find some women that are also qualified?”
And so 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 … 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.
But David Bernstein, a reporter for the Boston Phoenix who was covering Romney at the time, says that’s not what happened. Bernstein writes that in 2002, before Romney was elected, a bipartisan group of women formed MassGAP , which aimed to get women into top positions in state government.
They did the research and put together the binder full of women qualified for all the different cabinet positions, agency heads, and authorities and commissions. They presented this binder to Governor Romney when he was elected.
I’ve checked with several people directly involved in the MassGAP effort who confirm that this history as I’ve just presented it is correct—and that Romney’s claim tonight, that he asked for such a study, is false.
That jibes closely with a separate report from The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, who spoke to Liz Levin, the chair of MassGAP at the time.
“He did not initiate our project,” Levin, an Obama supporter, told Sargent. “He was the recipient of a project we put together.” She did allow that Romney was a “willing participant with us.”
It’s also an open question as to how successful the initiative was under Romney’s watch. Both Bernstein and Sargent also note that, according to a University of Massachusetts study, the percentage of women in senior leadership positions in the Bay State declined over the course of Romney’s tenure.
Also worth noting: In regard to the question that Romney was actually asked Tuesday night, about pay equity for women? A top campaign adviser confirmed after the debate he was opposed to the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which makes it easier for women who suffered pay discrimination to recover lost wages.