WASHINGTON (AP) — With a few strokes of his pen on a sleepy holiday six months after he became governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney quietly scuttled the state government's long-standing affirmative action policies.
There were no news conferences, no press releases trumpeting Romney's executive order on Bunker Hill Day, June 17, 2003, in the deserted Statehouse. But when civil rights leaders, black lawmakers and other minority groups finally learned of Romney's move two months later, it sparked a public furor.
Romney drew criticism for cutting the enforcement teeth out of the law and rolling back more than two decades of affirmative action advances.
Civil rights leaders said his order stripped minorities, women, disabled people and veterans of equal access protections for state government jobs and replaced them with broad guidelines. They complained Romney hadn't consulted them before making such drastic changes, snubbing the very kind of inclusion he professed to support.
"It was done under the radar and there was a big backlash," said Michael Curry, president of the Boston branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "It was clear Romney really did not have an appreciation for the affirmative action policies long in place."
Romney responded by creating an advisory panel to recommend changes. But he eventually retreated completely, leaving the state's old policies in place.
The likely Republican presidential nominee's handling of affirmative action may offer insights into how he would deal with civil rights issues if he defeats Barack Obama, the nation's first black president, in the fall election. Romney hasn't talked much about affirmative action on the campaign trail.
Romney's campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
"This is the canary in the coal mine on how he feels about civil rights issues," said Julie Patino, who was deputy director of the state's affirmative action office from 1995 to 1999. "It was a cloaked and unilateral move that eradicated years and years of civil rights advances and history. It was an astonishing act."
Patino said the state's long, tortured history of race relations, including the violence over school busing that tore apart Boston in the 1970s, made Massachusetts' affirmative action laws especially critical.
Romney scuttled, revived Mass. affirmative action - Yahoo! News