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"He can seem very distant, unattached at times, almost heartless," says Judith Dushku, a lifelong Mormon and an associate professor of government at Suffolk University in Boston. Dushku has known Romney since the early 1970s, when they were both active in the LDS. Romney later served as her ward bishop, from 1981 to 1986, and as her stake president from 1986 until 1994, when he ran unsuccessfully for the United States Senate against Edward M. Kennedy.
Dushku sees a disturbing pattern in the Romney résumé that can be traced as far back as his two-year Mormon missionary work in France during the late 1960s. "I don't have a sense that Mitt went on his mission to understand people, to engage them as human beings, but rather to excel in the eyes of the church," says Dushku. "It was about fulfilling an assignment, not about compassion. And that has been his modus operandi his entire life."
Raised in a Navy family that moved around the country, and a 1964 graduate of Brigham Young University, Dushku (who is also the mother of actress Eliza Dushku of television's Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame) identifies herself as a "social democrat," so she and Romney have often found themselves on opposite sides of the fence when it comes to politics. That said, she describes the two of them as being friends in those early years in Boston, along with being Mormon brethren, although never seemingly on the same plane.
Dushku was a single mother of four at the time and, she says, Romney never seemed to be particularly comfortable in the company of unmarried Mormon mothers. "I mean, if you were seated at a table with him and other Mormon men," she says, "you weren't likely to be included in the conversation. [Romney] thought that any woman that wasn't married to someone who can support them, who wasn't following church tradition in that respect, was just almost too unusual to consider in any collegial way."
Perhaps no other woman in the country—a feminist Mormon who has known Romney for nearly 40 years and who practiced in the LDS church of Massachusetts while Romney was in various positions of church leadership there—has such a unique perspective on the Republican candidate and his relationship to issues affecting women as does Dushku.
With rare exception this campaign season—the primary one being an extensive interview in Religion Dispatches with Joanna Brooks, author of The Book of Mormon Girl—these voices have not been heard in the mainstream media as part of the cumulative cacophony defining Romney for the American electorate. In many ways, he's been issued a free pass on his record as a Mormon Church leader, particularly in respect to his record on women and issues that impact their lives.
There was another problematic incident that took place during Romney's tenure as ward bishop, in 1984, involving another Mormon woman, Peggie Hayes.
Then 24 and active in the LDS church where Romney served as ward bishop, Hayes was a divorced, single mother of a four-year-old daughter living in the Boston area. Her family had been close to the Romneys and she trusted Mitt Romney as a friend and mentor, even as a "father figure."
In the winter of 1984, after Hayes had given birth to a son, Dane, Romney visited her home in the blue-collar neighborhood of Sommerville. The Romneys had been good to Hayes, she says, hiring her to help clean their basement and then urging other friends to help her find odd jobs. She was expecting more of the same type of support when Romney visited her home. Instead she was "shocked" by what she heard. According to Hayes, Romney "pressured" her to give her son up for adoption through an LDS agency.
At first she thought she had misunderstood him, but much to her horror, she hadn't. "[Romney] told me it was really important to give the baby up," Hayes said in her original interview with Globe reporters Frank Phillips and Scot Lehigh nearly two decades ago. "He told me he was a representative of the church, and by refusing, I was failing to comply with the church's wishes and could be excommunicated."