Romney cabinet's women representation better than today's leading Democratic governors

While Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts, the state was recognized for its record in putting women in leadership roles. In 2004, “10 of the 20 top positions in Romney’s administration were filled by women, including lieutenant governor Kerry Healey,” the Boston Globe noted.


Romney spoke about the process used to achieve that record in a now famous debate answer Tuesday:

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 — of women. I was proud of the fact that after I staffed my cabinet and my senior staff that 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.

The former governor is getting plenty of guff for clumsy construction, but let’s look beyond the binder story to the bottom line.

The upper echelons of Massachusetts government were more representative of the female population than any state in the nation according to a State University of New York, Albany study published in 2004. The university’s Center for Women in Government and Civil Society noted Massachusetts’ 50-percent representation was the nation’s closest to “to parity in terms of the degree to which women are represented in top policy positions.”

Jesse Mermell, head of the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus during Romney’s tenure, told a Democratic National Committee conference call Wednesday that those gains were gone by the end of his term.

“Despite what Romney claimed in the debate last night, there were fewer women in his administration by the end than there were in the previous or subsequent administrations,” Mermell said.


But another survey (pdf) published by the same SUNY Albany center in 2008, covering all of Romney’s tenure, puts Massachusetts’ percentage of women in leadership roles at 45.1 percent, for a rank of 7th in the nation and still far above the national average. A list of the governor’s cabinet members over the entirety of his tenure shows 11 women and 16 men, for a percentage over his term of 40 percent. The Boson Globe reports that 42 percent of Romney’s appointments were women halfway through his term, but representation fell to 27.6 percent by the end of his term.

Even at the lower estimate of 40 percent, the representation of women in Romney’s cabinet outdoes the average of today’s leading Democratic governors by double digits. President Obama’s cabinet is 36 percent women.

A look at nine governors in the Democratic Governors Association’s leadership ranks shows the average percentage of women in cabinet positions is 24 percent. If one takes the lowest number the Globe can produce for Romney—27.6 percent—even it outstrips the average of these governors. Despite eight years elapsing during which any number of women’s groups, governors, and binders could work together to improve representation, Gov. Bev Perdue of North Carolina’s cabinet sits at 9 percent representation. Perdue, also Vice Chair for the DGA, comes in lowest on the list, with a woman filling only one of 11 cabinet positions. Her Council of State Agencies includes several women, but Perdue’s office clarified they are not part of the cabinet.


Gov. Dan Malloy of Connecticut leads the pack by a long shot with women appointed to 18 of 45 commissioners’ positions for 40 percent representation, but still falls short of Romney’s percentages while governor of Massachusetts.

DGA Chair and Democratic rising star Gov. Martin O’Malley’s cabinet comes in at about 20 percent in Maryland, with women filling five of 24 cabinet positions. Gov. Pat Quinn’s numbers are identical in Illinois.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, Gov. Jack Markell of Delaware, and Gov. Peter Shumlin of Vermont all post 25-percent female representation in their cabinets. Gov. Christine Gregoire of Washington’s cabinet is 24 percent women while Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana outshines most of his peers with five women filling 17 positions— 29 percent. Arkansas and California round out the rest of DGA leadership, but Arkansas doesn’t have a formal cabinet and Gov. Jerry Brown’s office has not responded to a request for an official list. Full list of statistics below the story. Different states have cabinets of varying sizes and breadths, but statistics came from online cabinet lists or straight from the governors’ offices.

Meanwhile the women in the binders have voices, and Romney’s former Lt. Gov Kerry Healey highlighted the governor’s record Wednesday on Fox:

“My personal experience has obviously been extraordinary. Governor Romney is a great leader, and he also creates a work environment which is enormously friendly, it’s family friendly, it’s professional. It’s everything that women in the workforce could hope for. But I also think this is so ironic because it’s giving us an opportunity to talk about one of the great strengths of Governor Romney during his time in office which was that he did want to bring women’s voices into government. That he did have half of the women in his top appointed positions, right there with him; his chief of staff was a woman. Obviously he asked me to run with him. I am clearly a female, and his top policy adviser was also female in addition to all the cabinet secretaries he brought forward.”


Jane Edmonds, an African-American woman and self-described “liberal Democrat” who worked in Romney’s administration, spoke on his behalf at the Republican National Convention.

“One area where he made a positive difference is in improving the representation of women in senior positions in Massachusetts state government, ” Edmonds said. “This achievement happened because Mitt Romney cared about the issue, he took action to fix it, and he delivered results.”

The Democratic National Committee’s spokesperson Brad Woodhouse declared Wednesday in an e-mail to reporters that the campaign was “Gonna Talk Binders at 12:15 PM EST.”

Maybe a little less talking the binder talk and a little more walking the walk are in order.

Update: A commenter reminds me I should just post Jane Edmonds’ speech because it’s great:


Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland: 20 percent
Five women of 24 Cabinet members

Gov. Bev Perdue of North Carolina: 9 percent
One woman of 11 positions

Gov. Jack Markell of Delaware: 25 percent
Four women of 16 positions

Gov. Peter Shumlin of Vermont: 25 percent
Six women of 24 positions
The Burlington Free-Press published a story featuring a smaller list, with three of 12 positions filled by women, but the percentage remained the same.

Gov. Christine Gregoire of Washington:
24 percent
Seven women in 29 positions

Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana: 29 percent
Five women of 17 positions


Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois: 20 percent
Five women of 24 positions

Gov. Dan Malloy of Connecticut: 40 percent
18 women of 45 positions

Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York: 25 percent
Seven women in 28 positions

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John Sexton 8:40 PM on September 21, 2023