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How Romney has empowered women

By Jane Edmonds, Special to CNN
October 24, 2012 -- Updated 1825 GMT (0225 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jane Edmonds says her dad, school official discouraged her from pursuing law career
  • She ultimately worked for Gov. Mitt Romney in Massachusetts as cabinet member
  • Romney has record of hiring women in Massachusetts; he cares about women, she says
  • Edmonds: Romney has stood for opportunity and empowerment, big concerns of women

Editor's note: Jane Edmonds served as a member of Gov. Mitt Romney's cabinet and as head of the Department of Workforce Development in Massachusetts. She also was an appointee of Gov. Michael S. Dukakis and served as chair of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD), the civil rights law enforcement agency for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. She is a surrogate for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign.

(CNN) -- "Baby, law isn't a good profession for girls," my father told me.

"Stay with music, dear, that is what you and your people do so well," my high school dean said.

I was 16, and asking them the most important question of my life: Will you tell me how to become a lawyer?

Jane Edmonds
Jane Edmonds

My dad was a product of the segregated South. Orphaned at the age of 12, he pulled himself up by his bootstraps. After leaving Georgia for Washington, where he lived with a relative, he attended an integrated school, Dunbar High. Eventually, he earned his way into Syracuse University, where he was one of the first black men to graduate. In spite of his achievements, he and our family faced discrimination. Nevertheless, he kept his sense of humor, and worked hard to be a good provider.

My father's message was loving and protective. He didn't want to see me hurt.

My dean's message was scornful and discriminatory. She took a sledgehammer to my dreams, and when I left her office that day, I was crushed and fighting tears. I couldn't understand her answer.

I wanted to go to a good college, attend a respected law school and advocate for people needing help and craving justice. I refused to abandon these high hopes.

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And I didn't. I followed my dreams and went to law school. More than 40 years later, I became one of the 10 women named to top policy-making posts in the early months of Gov. Mitt Romney's administration in Massachusetts. There, I headed up the Department of Workforce Development. During Gov. Romney's tenure, our state led the nation in terms of the ratio of women holding top spots in the administration, and to this day, that's something about which I am incredibly proud to have been a part of.

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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, order food at a Wendy's restuarant in Richmond Heights, Ohio, on Tuesday. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, order food at a Wendy's restuarant in Richmond Heights, Ohio, on Tuesday.
From the campaign trail
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Photos: From the campaign trail Photos: From the campaign trail
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And so, as I've heard criticism about Gov. Romney's admirable record of recruiting women to serve in his administration, I feel compelled to speak out about the Mitt Romney I know.

I remember meeting him for the first time. I was struck by his authenticity, and over the years that I worked with him, I saw the accuracy of my first impression. Gov. Romney's overriding commitment was not to self-promotion -- as is so often the case for politicians -- but for the people he served, and the people he served with. He believes in empowering women. I would know, because I was one of those women he recruited and respected.

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Today, there are more than 5 million women around this country -- mothers, daughters, breadwinners -- who are unemployed. They are not only robbed of their dignity and their self-respect; they are also robbed of the results of decades of hard work. More women are in poverty -- 25.7 million -- than at any time in our nation's history.

And for too many young people, the doors of opportunity remain closed shut by these tough economic circumstances. Half of recent college graduates are either jobless or underemployed. The cost of college has continued to rise in the last four years and student loan debt stands at record levels.

When Mitt Romney was governor, he worked with a legislature that was 87% Democratic to get things done. And to me, that really meant something: I consider myself a liberal Democrat. For him, it wasn't about who you were, it was about the quality of your ideas. That's how he improved the economy and balanced the budget, but that's not all he accomplished. Gov. Romney also initiated the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship to cover the cost of college at public institutions of higher education in the state for deserving high school students based on academic merit.

During his time as governor, Massachusetts maintained its schools' ranking as first in the nation.

Opportunity. Empowerment. That's what Mitt Romney has stood for while in politics and in business, and that's what matters to women. In government, he created opportunities for young people to attend college. In business, he took a chance on people to allow their dreams to flourish into realities.

I've been able to rise in life because of people who see the world this way. Looking back, I'm grateful to those who believe that education is a civil right and that the dreams of all should be encouraged and cultivated. And that's precisely why I'm supporting Mitt Romney.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jane Edmonds.

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