Monday, October 25, 2004

Record high of 9 women hold governor's offices


But tough campaigns may shrink number

By Robert Tanner
The Associated Press

A record nine women governors now hold office. But bruising terms, party politics and well-funded competition in this fall's elections combine to make holding onto that high point a challenge.

For women politicians and those who strive to see women equally represented in state capitols, Congress and the White House, this year's struggle underscores how far the nation's political culture has moved in the past few decades - and how far it has to go.

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"This has changed so dramatically and so quickly," said Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat and the state's second woman governor. "It opens doors, not only for future generations, but also it begins to change the mindset of the American electorate." Sebelius is the daughter of John Gilligan, former Ohio governor and Cincinnati school board member.

Besides her state, women now govern Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana and Utah.

Two Republican governors in the West are on their way out - Judy Martz of Montana chose not to run after a rocky first term, while Olene Walker of Utah, a former lieutenant governor who took office when her predecessor joined the Bush administration, wasn't nominated by fellow Republicans.

Two Democrats are making strong bids elsewhere: Christine Gregoire of Washington state, the state attorney general seeking an open seat; and Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who unseated one-term Democratic Gov. Bob Holden in the primary. Polls show both women are very competitive.

In Delaware, Democrat Ruth Ann Minner has led in recent polls in her race for a second term.

The success of women as governors offers hope, possibly even more than the 74 women among the 535 members of Congress, including a record 14 in the Senate.

"It's breaking a boundary and a barrier that's important for women's general progress in politics," said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

"We've gotten comfortable with women in legislatures," an arena of compromise and negotiation like Congress, Walsh said. "That's our stereotype of women, that they work well with others. Now we've got women as chief executives, where the buck stops," she said.

It was just two years ago that the nation hit a record when six women were in governors' offices.

Since then, the rise to nine has brought only scant attention, whether because of the nation's attention to global rather than domestic politics or just a reflection of how accepted it has become for women to move up.

But the high-profile successes mask other worries. Fewer women are entering politics, experts say, shown by a recent drop in percentage of women in state legislatures and in statewide office.

"It's not a battle that can't be won, but it's like a mountain and the valley," said Sandi Huddleston, who works to encourage Republican women to get involved with Indiana's Richard G. Lugar Excellence in Public Service Series. "We may be on the upswing," she said.




ELECTION 2004
Blackwell revels in the hot seat
Edwards preaches to faithful
Levy vote puts in question Drake's long-term prognosis
Lawmakers get in position for leadership
Dems out to clinch the Jewish vote
Record high of 9 women hold governor's offices
Senate campaign heats up
Jefferson Co. Republicans won't use poll challengers
Butler County tax levies face a host of unknowns
N.Ky. a stronghold for Bush, poll says
Bush, Kerry hammer home themes
Ohio Supreme Court opponents disagree on revealing views
Math professor challenging county treasurer
Franklin voters consider merger
Election 2004 section

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