Movin' On Up

Actress Eva Mendes participates in a Cartier news conference to announce the fourth annual Love Day initiative and the new love charity bracelet benefiting The Art of Elysium and other charities, Thursday, June 11, 2009, in New York.
AP
In her latest Political Points commentary, CBS News Senior Political Editor Dotty Lynch takes a look at the historic number of women and minorities running for governor this year.

Chuck Yob, Republican national committeeman from Michigan, proclaimed last year that secretary of state is a good job for a woman.

"That's a real nice place for a woman," he said. They like that kind of work. Most county clerks across the state, which is a jump to (secretary of state), are women and they have the experience."

This year there are a number of women who have "been there and done that" and have decided it's time to move on up. In fact, an interesting pattern has emerged in which an historic number of women and minorities are running for governor. Some analysts say that a trend toward putting women and minorities in down-ballot slots to "balance" statewide tickets may be responsible for the quantum leap this year.

Twenty three women, three African-Americans and two Hispanics are running for governor this year in 36 states, and 13 of them hold statewide offices such as attorney general, treasurer and, of course, secretary of state. In all, 27 statewide officials – 11 women and 16 men – are running for governor this year.

While going from one statewide elected office to the next may seem like an obvious progression – and it has been for many white males – a lot of folks have held the same notion as Mr. Yob; that a woman in the secretary of state slot is a "natural" and she could stay there for life.

But even if women wanted to stay put, term limits in many states have guaranteed they can't become lifers in these down-ballot jobs.

While women and minorities have made great strides in gaining legislative seats, only five states currently have women governors (New Hampshire, Delaware, Arizona, Montana and Massachusetts), and there are no African-American or Hispanic governors.

In our nation's history there have been only 19 women governors and only 12 of them have been elected in their own right. A study called "Keys to the Governor's Office: Unlock the Door: A Guide for Women Running for Governor," found that voters have a hard time imagining women in charge so women have to prove they can run something in order to overcome this perception.

That's why these statewide offices are such a good springboard for this year's candidates. In the 1980s, Ann Richards used her experience as state treasurer in Texas to propel her to the governor’s job. And back in the 1960s, Connecticut Gov. Ella Grasso proved herself first as secretary of state. Once the barrier is smashed it seems to stay down. Former Vermont Gov. Madeleine Kunin wrote in her book, "Leading a Political Life," that one day she heard a little boy saying that he couldn't become governor because "that's a women's job."

Here are a few of the twofer gubernatorial candidates to watch as the political year unfolds:

  • Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Maryland lieutenant governor.
    Townsend put the Kennedy back in her name when she joined the Glendenning ticket in 1994. Her role then was to help raise money and give a little star quality to the campaign. Since then she has accumulated a record and her campaign kick-off last weekend she made sure that people knew that she had real authority over crime and economic development programs.
  • Jennifer Granholm, Michigan attorney general.
    Granholm, the 43 year old who appeared on the Dating Game when she was trying to make it in Hollywood has surprised insiders with her prowess in fundraising. Running in a Democratic primary against former Governor Jim Blanchard and former House Whip David Bonior, Granholm topped the field in money in the last filing. Her campaign spends a lot of time talking about her accomplishments, especially as a crime fighter. Toughness is another important quality woman candidates have to demonstrate and her work as AG and former prosecutor will be the vehicles.
  • Jimmie Lou Fisher, Arkansas state treasurer.
    Fisher has been state treasurer since 1981 but is now term-limited. She was about to retire when the Democrats recruited her to run for governor and cleared the field for her. She has spent her time in office building enormous good will and traveling to virtually every community in the state. She is running against a very popular Republican governor, Mike Huckabee, but Democrats think her grassroots appeal is so strong she can give him a race. Since Huckabee's wife is running for secretary of state, another chain of succession may be about to occur.
  • Betsey Bayless, Arizona secretary of state; Janet Napolitano, Arizona attorney general; Carol Springer, Arizona state treasurer.
    Arizona is one of those states where governor is starting to look like a woman's job. The current governor, Jane Hull, was elected in 1998, six years after Rose Mofford, Arizona's first woman governor, stepped down. This year, three of the state's female constitutional officers are running, with Democrat Napolitano given the best chance of winning her primary and getting elected.
  • Carl McCall, New York state comptroller.
    McCall is from a state that has believed in balanced tickets for decades, but not usually at the top. McCall is now 66 and his supporters believe he has paid his dues. But he is in a nasty contest with first-time candidate, former HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo. Both are running far behind New York's Republican Gov. George Pataki and the late September primary will make it tough for whichever Democrat emerges.

    There are other women and minority candidates running for governor, including such high-profile names as Janet Reno in Florida and Bill Richardson in New Mexico, both former Cabinet secretaries in the Clinton administration who are more downsizing than moving up. But in 2002, many women and minorities are echoing the words of George Jefferson: "We're going to get a piece of the pie."