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When Mitt Swift-Boated Jane

July 16, 2012

If nothing else, the growing imbroglio over Mitt Romney's Bain Capital connections past, present and retroactive is rich in irony. After all, while most attention is focused on whether Romney was literally at the helm of the post-1999 Bain that reaped millions in fees and dividends from firms that successfully outsourced U.S. jobs or failed and went bankrupt, there should be little doubt that he profited - and still profits - from his unprecedented golden parachute. Meanwhile, Team Romney is now insisting their man parted ways with Bain in February 1999, which happens to be the opposite of what Mitt himself claimed 10 years ago when he was trying to prove his eligibility to run for governor of Massachusetts in 2002. And while his allies (and some pundits) comically pretend Mitt is being "Swift Boated," back in 2002 it was Romney who torpedoed the Bay State Republican incumbent - and first woman governor of Massachusetts - Jane Swift.

In the summer of 2001, you'll recall, Mitt Romney was running the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. But whether or not he still had an "active" role with Bain back in Boston, Romney was very actively - and publicly - plotting his political future. On August 20, 2001, the Deseret News reported that "Mitt Romney won't return to the business world after the 2002 Winter Games but instead will pursue public service, possibly elected office." The only question was where:

Romney, who made the announcement Monday, declined to say whether he intends to seek office either in Utah or Massachusetts, where he was managing partner and CEO of Bain Capital. He said he would not return to the venture capital firm as originally planned.

On its face, Utah seemed like the obvious choice. After all, he and his wife Ann had been living in their $3.8 million mansion near Park City for over two years. (It was that property, and his tax payments to the state of Utah on it as his "primary residence" that brought up the Massachusetts eligibility question in 2002.) As Mitt noted at the time, "the kids and grandkids are increasingly in Utah" and "the snow, the horses and the mountain are here." And as Michael Kranish and Scott Helman later explained in The Real Romney, his wife Ann had "'huge qualms' about going back east, because her multiple sclerosis symptoms had abated during three years in Utah. 'I've been healthy here,' she said."
But Utah's Republican Governor Mike Leavitt wasn't up for reelection until 2004 and GOP Senators Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett showed no signs of retiring. That meant that Romney's only other choice was to go back to Massachusetts and challenge the Republican incumbent governor, Jane Swift.
To be sure, Swift's tenure as acting Governor following the departure of Paul Cellucci in April 2001 had been troubled, to be kind. But despite her bungling in Boston and dismal poll numbers, Mitt Romney had promised he would not challenge her in the 2002 Republican primary. As Deseret News reported in August 2001:

Although he has been touted as a likely candidate in next year's Massachusetts gubernatorial race, Romney said again Monday he will not challenge a fellow Republican. The current governor, Jane Swift, a new mother of twins, was lieutenant governor when she assumed the top spot after the Bush administration named GOP Gov. Paul Cellucci as ambassador to Canada.

Romney continued to maintain that posture into early 2002. Despite the clamor from Massachusetts Republicans for him to jump in the race against the weakened Swift, Romney said that February he was still unlikely to do so:

Just last week Romney told CNN when asked about a challenge to Swift: "I'm pretty careful not to absolutely rule out anything, but I do think it would take an unusual circumstance for me to run against an incumbent from my own party. I'm very careful to make sure that even when doors seem pretty closed (to running), there's always a little opening."
He told the Deseret News he has turned down requests to allow political polling on his behalf and has yet to set up an exploratory committee to look at the race. But Romney knows he doesn't have much time if he's going to choose Massachusetts over Utah.

Given that background, it's no surprise that Swift spokesman Jim Borghesani told the Boston Herald at the time:

"Mitt Romney has said in the past that he supports Jane Swift for governor. She takes him at his word."

She shouldn't have.
As the Boston Globe revealed just a few weeks later on March 7, 2002, Romney had indeed been doing polling in Massachusetts, the results of which showed him mauling Swift and beating his likely Democratic opponents. And as Kranish and Helman reported, "his agents were on the ground quickly signing up staff and consultants and scheduling an announcement - whether Swift was in or out." By March 17, they wrote, "the Romneys, decked out in matching jackets with an Olympic theme, flew back to Massachusetts." Two days later, Jane Swift, the first woman to lead Massachusetts, pulled out of the race. To add insult to injury:

Romney never called Swift to say he had changed his mind and would run for governor after all. Swift found out from her staff, which had gotten wind that Romney had rented a big hotel ballroom.

Swift's departure from the race came on the same day as Romney's entry into it. As Time reported, the press conference by "Governor Mom" was an emotional one:

Jane Swift looked like she had been through hell. Her eyes were swimming with tears that she refused to let fall. Voice quavering, the acting governor of Massachusetts announced Tuesday that she would not run for the governor's seat this fall. Swift looked as shocked as the members of the state's political establishment, who were expecting her to put up a fight. Only the day before, she was defiantly vowing to contest a late primary challenge from Mitt Romney, chairman of the recent Winter Olympics. But after a night discussing what that fight would be like with her closest advisers and her husband, she was dropping out of the race. "I've never walked away from a fight in my life," Swift said. "That's probably the toughest part of this."

Jane Swift had indeed "taken one for the team." But even years later, her deference to Mitt Romney and his Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey earned failed earn Swift their gratitude. In October 2005, her portrait was unveiled at the Massachusetts State House without remarks from Governor Romney or even the attendance of his number two:

Romney attended the portrait unveiling, but declined a speaking role. Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey, who is poised to become the GOP gubernatorial nominee in 2006, was invited to attend but did not.
The current lieutenant governor tells people she is ''no Jane Swift." She will find out soon enough that being thin, blonde, and rich lends itself to other types of gender-related bias and analysis.
As former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman said during remarks honoring Swift, when a woman runs for office, ''the standards aren't always the same...The questions aren't always the same."

Or if you're being undermined by fellow Republicans like Mitt Romney, you won't be asked the questions at all. As Jane Swift learned, you do as you're told and get out of the way - or you're going down.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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