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For Rick Perry, No Binders Necessary

Gov. Rick Perry’s opponents say his tenure hasn't been kind to Texas women — but they can't argue about his hiring practices. Among Perry’s most senior staff, two-thirds are women.

Gov. Rick Perry meets with senior staff members at his office in the state Capitol on Jan. 9, 2013.

When Gov. Rick Perry looks up from his desk these days, more often than not, he is surrounded by women.

For the first time in his tenure, his chief of staff and deputy chief of staff are women. So are his director of communications, his press secretary, his heads of scheduling and administration, and his human resources director, along with the bulk of his appointments staff.

In all, about 60 percent of the 256 governor’s office employees are female. Among Perry’s most senior staff — those charged with making key decisions for the governor — two-thirds are women.

“Rick Perry has never needed a binder full of women,” said Deirdre Delisi, Perry’s first female chief of staff, alluding to Mitt Romney’s comments during a presidential debate about how he sought help recruiting women for cabinet posts while he was governor of Massachusetts.

Perry’s opponents suggest that his tenure has not been kind to Texas women. The state’s longest-serving governor has worked to further restrict access to abortion. And he has been unwavering in his desire to force all Planned Parenthood clinics — which may not provide abortions if they accept state or federal tax dollars — out of a program that provides family planning services to the state’s poorest women.

But they cannot argue about his hiring practices, especially in light of a New York Times report this month — and an ensuing controversy — about President Obama’s inner circle being dominated by men.

In an interview, Perry said “no one should be shocked” by the number of women in his administration. “I live every day with four strong women,” he said, referring to his wife, Anita, his daughter, Sydney, and his two dogs, Rory and Lucy.

And it just so happens, he added, that this particular staff lineup “is probably the most experienced, capable and knowledgeable group of people working around me since I started.”

But he confessed that the gender makeup in his office, while meaningful, is hardly intentional.

“I looked up one day and thought, ‘That’s kind of interesting,’” he said, then turned to the lone male staffer in the room and joked, “Where are all the guys?”

Delisi, a political consultant who chaired the state’s Transportation Commission at Perry’s urging after leaving the governor’s office, said that although the number of women in leadership roles in his administration has reached a new high, it is not novel.

Perry “surrounded himself with strong, capable women at the Agriculture Department, in the lieutenant governor’s office and when he became governor,” she said. Being his first female chief of staff, she added, “didn’t feel like breaking new ground.”

Ann Bishop, the former executive director of the Employees Retirement System whom the governor named his chief of staff in November, is accustomed to women stocking the executive offices of state agencies. Throughout her career, she has been a deputy comptroller and was the inaugural head of the state’s Department of Information Resources. Even she said she was “pleasantly surprised” to walk into her first staff meeting at the governor’s office and see how many of her new colleagues were female.

“The governor surrounds himself with the brightest and best,” she said, “and women are obviously part of that mix.”

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