Hoping to downplay news that he would not appoint a Muslim cabinet member, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney argued on Tuesday that having such a high-ranking official would not help address issues stemming from radical Islam. Appointments based on demographics, he suggested, were ineffective in tackling the problems that group faced.
Just four years earlier, however, Romney issued an executive order in Massachusetts that stressed the opposite.
In June 2003, then-Gov. Romney signed the Diversity and Equal Opportunity Act, which pushed his own advisers and state agencies to appoint employees who reflected Massachusetts's demographics. The goal, according to the governor's office, was to make government more "responsive to the Commonwealth's citizens."
"My administration is committed to assembling a state government workforce that reflects the fabric of our community," Romney said at the time. "We will work hard to ensure that our administration recruits and retains talented individuals from all backgrounds at every level of government."
The legislation -- which stipulated that Romney's cabinet members hire directors of diversity -- suggests that as governor Romney believed a diverse set of advisers would help his government address a wider range of issues. Such logic seemingly contrasts with Romney's recent proclamation that he did not believe a Muslim cabinet member could help confront radical jihad.
The Romney campaign said there was nothing inconsistent about his position.
"There's no difference," Kevin Madden, a spokesman for Romney, told the Huffington Post. "Governor Romney believes that you hire the best people and consider folks based on their qualifications. There isn't a requirement that people be considered just because of their race or ethnicity."
Controversy over a hypothetical Romney administration erupted on Tuesday after Mansoor Ijaz, a prominent Islamic businessman, wrote an oped on a private campaign event he attended in which Romney claimed he could not see how bringing a Muslim on board his cabinet could be "justified" considering the group's demographics in America. Later in the day, Romney denied Ijaz's account, saying it had been taken out of context.
"His question was did I need to have a Muslim in my Cabinet to be able to confront radical Jihad and would it be important to have a Muslim in my Cabinet," said Romney. "And I said, 'No, I don't think that you have to have a Muslim in the Cabinet to be able to take on radical Jihad anymore than during the Second World War we needed to have a Japanese-American to understand the threat that was coming from Japan or something of that nature.' I just rejected that argument..."
As reported by the Huffington Post, Ijaz rejected Romney's explanation of the event and noted that the former governor had scoffed at having a Muslim cabinet member before.
For some critics of Romney, the issue is not whether Romney would not appoint an adviser because of demographics or quotas but rather that he does not believe a Muslim cabinet member could help combat Islamic radicalism.
"Muslim-Americans have the talents to serve in these positions," said Randa Fahmy Hudome, a prominent Arab-American Republican and former Bush administration official, though not, it should be noted, a Muslim. "They have knowledge of the culture and language abilities. The very reason we are in trouble in that region is because we do not have people [in high places] who have knowledge of it."