‘May the best woman win’

Patricia Marroquin/Getty Images)

For at least a millisecond, let’s put politics aside: History is afoot in 2022, and when it happens, we should all take a bow for becoming something bigger than we were.

For the first time, in any state, the elected governor and lt. governor (only 45 states HAVE an LG) will be women. In Massachusetts and Rhode Island, Democrats may stake this claim; in Arkansas, Republicans have all but assured it.

In three other states — Michigan, Arizona and Iowa — the major finalists for governor are women. That’s also one for the books. It means 2022 will at least tie the current record for women simultaneously serving as governor, needing only one more win (among the three incumbents in Maine, Kansas, and New Mexico, plus a competitive challenger in Georgia) to break it.

These aren’t pebbles being hurled at the glass ceiling, but political meteors that ensure, evermore, that equality of merit has dispelled the prerogative of gender. The once unthinkable that became the near improbable has now become the norm.

Oh, would Nellie Ross be so proud!

Nearly a century ago, Ross — a one-time piano and kindergarten teacher from Wyoming — became the nation’s first elected female governor, handily winning a special election to replace her husband who’d been felled by an appendectomy gone bad.

Ross knew going in that it was going to be tough, that — in her words — “the governorship in the people’s minds was a man’s job.” Yet with wisdom, grace and guts, she traversed fault lines of prejudice to blaze a trail marked by mettle and paved with character. 

Despite concrete accomplishments (tax cuts, assistance for poor farmers, protection for miners), Ross barely lost re-election amid a down-cycle for her party.

That didn’t stop Nellie. Four years later, after this descendent of George Washington received 31 votes for vice president at the Democratic National Convention, she served as Director of the U.S. Mint under three successive presidents.

Ross pioneered a path for women in elective public service. Today, 45 women have served as governor, 50 as attorney general, and scores more in statewide postings from lt. governor to secretary of state. There’s still a long way to go (19 states have not yet elected a woman as governor), yet the trend is inexorable.

For those looking for “female firsts” this fall there will be a bevy of races from which to choose. Arkansas is set to elect its first woman governor AND lt. governor. Rhode Island may opt for the first woman/Hispanic elected governor in New England history.

Massachusetts warrants special attention. Less than a year after Michelle Wu became Boston’s first female mayor in a landslide, a recent poll showed three women are current frontrunners for the top three statewide posts (governor, lt. governor and attorney general).

The closest race could be for lt. governor, where that same poll showed Salem’s first woman mayor, Kim Driscoll, in a tight primary against former Obama staffer Eric Lesser.

Driscoll led Salem (now ranked among America’s “best places to live”) from stories of witchcraft to lessons in statecraft.

Should Driscoll win, she’d join heavy gubernatorial favorite Maura Healy in the winner’s circle; Healy would be the first woman ever elected governor of Massachusetts (Jane Swift served via a vacancy). If attorney general contender Andrea Campbell prevails as well, Massachusetts would score a political first: a gender trifecta.

Refreshingly, this wave of transformation isn’t owned by either Democrats or Republicans, but by all of us. It shimmers as a patch of common ground against the darkness of divisiveness.

America has a new rallying cry: “May the best woman win!”

Adam Goodman, a national Republican media strategist and columnist, is the first Edward R. Murrow senior fellow at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. Follow him on Twitter @adamgoodman3

Tags female governors glass ceiling woman governor Women in government Women in leadership Women in politics

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