The Obama campaign has been criticizing Mitt Romney’s response during the debate to a question about women’s pay relative to men’s. (Sample Obama-campaign reaction: launching a new web video today entitled “Mitt Romney’s Condescending Views Toward Women.”)
So I talked to Kerry Healy, who was Mitt Romney’s running mate in Massachusetts, and served as lieutenant governor during his time as governor, to get her take on Romney and female employees — and what his record was like on that in Massachusetts.
Romney, Healy says, took promoting women’s opportunities seriously, including pledging during the campaign (as did his Democratic opponent Shannon O’Brien) that half of his top appointees would be women.
“When Governor Romney was elected, he undertook to do that,” Healy recalls. “During the transition, he reached out to his business contacts, he reached out to the folks who had worked on the campaign through the transition to ask for their recommendations, and he also reached out to the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus that had been out there reaching out to women’s organizations on a bipartisan basis, collecting a number of names of women who were ready willing and able to come in and serve in government. So he had a number of sources that he drew on, and the now-famous binders that came up in the debate last night were ones that were provided through the Massachusetts Women’s political caucus as part of the MassGap project.”
Healy is alluding to this comment made by Romney during the debate: “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.”
There was never any “boys’ club” atmosphere that made life difficult for women who worked for Romney, Healy says.
“I imagine that anyone who had ever walked into Governor Romney’s office would know that for a fact because his chief of staff whose office was directly in front of his was Beth Myers,” Healy says. “She went on to become his campaign manager when he ran for president. His top policy adviser and governmental liaison was Cindy Gillespie, a woman who had been his adviser as well at the Olympics, and come with him to serve in Massachusetts 00 a Democrat, I might add, although I think she may be a Republican by this time. He had asked me to run with him and serve with him as lieutenant governor.”
“There was in no way a boys’-club atmosphere in our administration,” Healy adds, “and I think that that contrasts very starkly with what we have heard from the accounts of some female staffers in the White House who have called the atmosphere in the White House a hostile workplace.”
Anita Dunn, former White House communications director, has said that, “I remember once I told Valerie [Jarrett] that, I said if it weren’t for the president, this place would be in court for a hostile workplace. Because it actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women.”
Healy was “pleased” with Romney’s answer on women’s pay during the debate.
“I have no doubt about Governor Romney’s hundred percent commitment to pay equality for women,” she says, “and beyond that, I know that he’s also committed to advancing women to the top levels of management and office in the public sector, so I think that Governor Romney’s commitment to supporting women in workplace goes beyond simple pay equality, which is extremely important and which he has been on the record as supporting since his interview with Diane Sawyer over a year ago, but he really goes beyond that to promoting actively promoting the careers of qualified women so that they have the experience necessary to go on and serve in the very top levels of government and in business.”
Healy had harsh words for Obama’s response, saying his plan going forward was “an empty binder.”
“There are five-and-a-half million women who are currently unemployed in America and we did not hear Barack Obama addressing their needs, 500,000 more than four years ago when he took office,” Healy says. “There are more women living in poverty today than any time in the last 17 years. There are almost 26 million women in living in poverty today and we did not hear Barack Obama talking about his jobs records or how he would address the needs of those women. So I am more concerned with President Obama’s lack of vision about how he wants to help women get into the workforce and be properly treated there than Governor Romney’s record because I have firsthand experience seeing Governor Romney’s sincerity on these issues.”