States make history with governor picks

Voters in at least three states made history Tuesday by choosing first-of-their-kind governors to succeed retiring incumbents.
Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R) (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

Voters in at least four states made history Tuesday by choosing first-of-their-kind governors to succeed exiting incumbents.

Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R) in Arkansas, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D) are all the first women elected to govern their states. They’re also contributing to a record number of women who will lead their states after the 2022 elections.

Nonprofit executive Wes Moore (D) will become the first Black governor of Maryland, which has one of the highest shares of Black residents in the nation. Moore, a first-time candidate, will be only the third Black man elected to govern a state since Reconstruction, after Doug Wilder (D) in Virginia and Deval Patrick (D) in Massachusetts.

Healey broke another barrier as the first openly gay person to win a governorship in the United States. She might not hold that distinction for long, with former Oregon state House Speaker Tina Kotek (D), who is a lesbian, holding a narrow lead in a race that wasn’t called by Wednesday afternoon.

With women on track to win several other gubernatorial races also not called, a record number of at least 11 women are likely to serve as governors in 2023, breaking the record of nine in 2004, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

Those victories were joined by an array of firsts in other statewide executive elections and legislative races, although it remains too early to provide exact numbers.

Hochul has served as New York’s first woman governor since August 2021, after replacing former Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who resigned. She’s now the first woman elected governor.

Healey’s victory came two decades after Jane Swift (R) succeeded then-Gov. Paul Cellucci (R), who resigned to become ambassador to Canada.

The results build on breakthroughs in the efforts to diversify candidates for office after the 2018 election, when Democrats capitalized on backlash on the left to former President Trump to usher in a record-breaking number of women at all levels of government.

Republicans quickly rebounded with efforts to address critiques that the party was disproportionately represented by older, white men. Thanks in part to gains among the GOP, a record number of women and women of color served in Congress and state legislatures in 2021, according to the CAWP.

“Through our Right Leaders Network, the RSLC this year redoubled our efforts to grow the Republican Party from the ground up in the states by recruiting, training and supporting women and diverse candidates across the country,” said Stephanie Rivera, national press secretary at the Republican State Leadership Committee.

At least 75 women will serve in statewide elective executive offices in 2023, a number that includes 39 Democrats, 35 Republicans and one independent, with 46 more women who remained in statewide executive contests that were too close to call Wednesday afternoon, according to CAWP.

That includes three women who identify as Asian American/Pacific Islander, eight who identify as Black, six who identify as Latina/Hispanic and one who identifies as Native American/Alaska Native/Native Hawaiian.

Stephanie Thomas (D) won her election to become Connecticut’s first Black Secretary of State. It will be the first time the state will have two Black people serving simultaneously in an executive office.

“We have a history here in Connecticut where Black candidates often served as treasurer and that was seen as the ‘representative’ slot, if you will,” Thomas said. “So when I raised my hand for this job, it shocked everyone a little bit. But that is what transformation looks like.”

It is more difficult to track race and ethnicity data for legislative candidates. But the Collective PAC, an progressive organization that recruits and supports Black candidates, reported a record number of Black candidates on the local, federal and state level this cycle.

“It’s been incredible to run authentically as myself and to see my district say, ‘Yes. That is who we want,” said Ruwa Romman (D), who became the first Muslim woman elected to the Georgia state House and the first Palestanian elected to any office. “I am really, really excited to say that we made history last night.”