Weeks after taking office in 2003, Romney quickly and quietly eliminated the state's 20-year-old Office of Affirmative Action -- and with it all diversity-hiring guidelines -- by signing an executive order on Bunker Hill Day, a holiday when prying Beacon Hill lawmakers and media were off work. Romney replaced the hiring guidelines with streamlined policies of his own that critics charged effectively undid the intent of the initiative entirely.
Leonard Alkins, who at the time was president of the Boston chapter of the NAACP, still thinks the way Romney dismantled the office under the radar says a lot about him. "He was very disingenuous. It was clear he was patronizing to a lot of people when it came to civil-rights issues," Alkins said.
Outrage ensued. Romney, who created a task force as part of his executive order but had not included the NAACP, added Alkins and other civil-rights advocates. The task force made recommendations, but Romney never implemented them, Alkins said, instead going forward with his earlier streamlined plan.
Romney's record extended beyond terminating the office that enforced affirmative action to imposing what many called a new financial barrier to seeking racial justice.
As part of his 2003 budget plan, Romney proposed a $125 fee to file complaints at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination -- the first in the agency's history. The Democrat-controlled Legislature rejected the fee. Today, there is no fee to file complaints with the agency, according to a spokeswoman.
The governor was also slow to appoint African Americans and women to the bench.
Two years into his term, Romney came under fire for the lack of diversity among his judicial nominees -- of the 19 put up for the bench, just two were black and 17 were men. A year later, there was an uptick in women and black appointments. Romney claimed that qualified judicial nominees weren't getting to his desk, and blamed the board he appointed to screen candidates for the bench for not sending on qualified minorities and women. So he overhauled the board. Critics questioned the governor's motives and commitment to diversity, and pointed to the composition of the nearly all-white panel he'd put in place to vet nominees.
Perhaps not coincidentally, one report noted, Romney's reaction was timed to put safely conservative picks on the courts at the same time that he weighed a presidential bid.
However, even before becoming governor in 2002, Romney combated public concerns about his feelings about equality.
As a candidate for U.S. Senate, Romney was walloped in 1994 for running a "white boy's club" at Bain Capital, the private-equity firm he founded, because none of its 40 employees were black.
At the time, Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II was acting as a campaign "attack dog" for his embattled uncle, Sen. Edward Kennedy, who was in the tightest contest of his life. Joseph Kennedy just a day earlier had whacked Romney's Mormon faith, saying it made blacks and women "second-class citizens," and now was bashing Romney's firm's hiring practices.