Updated: Oct 18, 2021
The 2022 gubernatorial election could shift the female balance of power between the parties.
By LIZ CRAMPTON
Before she was elected to the Kansas state Senate and before she was elected governor, Laura Kelly needed a nudge to run. Both times she got it from a friend, neighbor and fellow rare woman in politics: Kathleen Sebelius, a former Kansas governor herself and secretary of Health and Human Services in the Obama administration.
It was the whisper network at work. The not-so-secret support system has put thousands of women in power at every level of government, slowly changing the face of a profession once the sole domain of men. But for all its successes — women now account for a third of state lawmakers, more than a quarter of the U.S. House of Representatives and nearly as much of the Senate — women in many states have yet to shatter the highest glass ceiling: the governorships.
Today, just ninewomen hold the title, with power split among six Democrats and three Republicans. Four of those women took over the role by succession, most recently in New York, where Kathy Hochul became the state's first female governor in August after Andrew Cuomo resigned over sexual harassment allegations.
Now there’s growing urgency among leaders in both major parties around bolstering the chances of women running in the 2022 gubernatorial elections, when voters in 36 states will pick their next state executive. The nation could be left with fewer female governors if vulnerable Democratic women don’t hang onto their seats and Republicans fail to pick up power in multiple states where women are expected to be on the ballot.
Whatever happens hinges on whether both parties follow through on their pledges to recruit more women to run for statewide office — and whether that whisper network can give the final nudge.
“Women who decide to run have to work very hard at convincing people that they are tough enough to deal with the complexities of the job and balance that out with not appearing to be too aggressive, because that tends to turn people off too,” Kelly, a Democrat, said in an interview. “It’s a real balancing act and not an easy one. You just don’t have a whole lot of people out there who want to put themselves in that position.”
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