The women of Romney’s binder speak out

Former Massachusetts director of the Department of Workforce Development Jane C. Edmonds speaks at the Republican National Convention in August.
Former Massachusetts director of the Department of Workforce Development Jane C. Edmonds speaks at the Republican National Convention in August.
Stan Honda/AFP/GettyImages

After a stumble in Tuesday night’s presidential debate turned Romney into an instant Internet meme, the candidate and his campaign are looking to rebound by showing off the actual women who served under his governorship.

A new video released by team Romney builds on the candidates’ awkward anecdote from Tuesday’s debate recounting his struggle to find qualified women to fill out his cabinet once elected as Massachusetts governor.

“And I said, well, gosh, can’t we—can’t we find some—some women that are also qualified?” Romney said in the debate.

Romney went on to overstate his “concerted effort” to find qualified women that left him with women’s groups handing over “binders full of women” from which he could choose.

Three women appointed to Romney’s cabinet in Massachusetts—Jane C. Edmonds, former director of the Department of Workforce; Beth Lindstrom, former director of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation; and Ellen Roy Herzfelder, former secretary of Environmental Affairs—appear in a new campaign ad for the former governor. Called “humanity,” the ad seeks to portray how the candidate treats women in the workplace.

“He totally gets working women,” Herzfelder says in the video. “Especially women like myself who had two young kids. I needed flexibility.”

Two years after Romney picked Herzfelder’s name out of a binder, the state secretary stepped down from her position. Reports at the time cited her reason as wanting to spend more time with her family. 

”She’s doing it to spend time with her kids, who are very young, but she’ll stay connected with the administration by becoming a senior policy adviser,” an unnamed official told the Boston Globe in July of 2005.

Herzfelder is currently on a “We Know Mitt” bus tour through Iowa where Romney is moving to close the gender gap. A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll of swing states issued just days before Tuesday’s debate and the “binder” comment showed Obama leading with likely female voters but within the margin of error (49% to 48%).

A study initially showed that the Romney administration did hire a number of women to begin with, but later reports noted a decline by the end of his tenure as governor. Today he counts Beth Myers and Cindy Gillespie among his close advisers.

President Obama lampooned Romney’s remark from the stump in Ohio Wednesday. “We don’t have to order up some binders to find qualified talented driven young women,” he told the crowd in Athens.

Obama’s own record on women appointees hasn’t escaped critique either. Women lead the Obama administration’s State Department and Homeland Security (Hillary Clinton and Janet Napolitano), and the president’s two Supreme Court nominees were women (Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan). Yet, criticism has persisted over the number of senior Obama advisers who are men. A New York Times article asked: “Does the White House feel like a frat house?” And a 2011 book described a boy’s club environment.

Buzz over Romney’s “binder full of women” hijacked commentary on his response to the initial town hall question on equal pay for women. The candidate highlighted his record by noting he allows for his women staff members to have flexible schedules.

“I recognized that if you’re going to have women in the workforce, that sometimes they need to be more flexible,” Romney said in the debate.

Romney’s actual stance on equal pay for women remained muddled post-debate when adviser Ed Gillespie told the Huffington Post that the GOP candidate opposed the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which allows women to recover losses from lower wages. The Romney campaign quickly backtracked from Gillespie’s comments, saying Romney never opposed the law, he simply “never weighed in on it.”

The women of Romney's binder speak out