Credit: Tony Alter/Tobyotter on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0)
(WOMENSNEWS)--The nation's four female governors who are eligible to run for reelection in November next year face the same political hurricane surrounding this year's bumper crop of incumbents: the opening day of the Affordable Care Act on Jan. 1.
About 30 of the 36 incumbent governors are expected to be on the ballot in 2014, the largest number in half a century, predicted Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center on Politics in Charlottesville, in a June analysis.
"The biggest difference between 2010 (when the four governors were elected) and 2014 is incumbency: the lack of it in 2010 and the abundance of it in 2014. Since 1960, four out of five incumbents who have made it into a general election ballot have been reelected," he said.
But for the quartet of female governors in this election cycle the Affordable Care Act effect could be particularly intense.
Only one of the quartet--Republican New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez--voted to expand Medicaid, a move expected to benefit huge numbers of single mothers in her state. (The country's fifth and only other female governor--Arizona Republican Jan Brewer, who is not eligible to run due to Arizona's eight-year term limit--also voted for Medicaid expansion).
Page Gardner founded the Washington-based Women's Voices Women Vote Action Fund in 2005 to increase voter participation of unmarried women. Currently the organization's president, she said female governors who declined Medicaid expansion could face special scrutiny from voters.
"Voters tend to look to female candidates on health care, so candidates who fail to address this issue do so at their peril," Gardner said in a phone interview.
Gardner added that health care is an issue of vital importance to unmarried women, people of color and young people, a group she called the "rising American electorate," which helped President Barack Obama get reelected.
High Poverty Rates
The Census Bureau reported in September that about one-fifth of women in Oklahoma, New Mexico and South Carolina were living in poverty in 2011. The poverty rates for single parents with children were even higher: 38 percent in Oklahoma, 42 percent in New Mexico and 44 percent in South Carolina.
Gov. Martinez, who opposed the Affordable Care Act when Congress was considering it in 2010, warned on Sept. 23 that "if the federal government breaks its promise to provide the funds, New Mexico would not pick up the burden of paying for the adults added to the rolls at the expense of coverage for New Mexico kids." Many of the adults who will be added to the rolls are already on a state health care plan. Martinez said she wouldn't be surprised if the Obama administration broke its promise on providing the funds because it has failed to fulfill its promise on immigration reform.
New Hampshire Democrat Gov. Maggie Hassan opted out of Medicaid expansion but is signaling general acceptance of health reform ahead of the November 2014 election. "There is no sense in refighting past battles; the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land," Hassan said in a press statement on Oct. 1 when the health exchanges began accepting applications. "We must now work to ensure that the people of New Hampshire can obtain the quality and affordable coverage they deserve."
If Republican Gov. Mary Fallin had accepted the expansion of Medicaid it would have provided coverage for about 200,000 uninsured people in Oklahoma. As a member of Congress, Fallin voted against the Affordable Care Act. As governor she decided to accept a $54 million federal grant in 2011 to create the state-operated health exchange, but later backed down under pressure from Republicans in the state legislature.
South Carolina, Texas Races
When South Carolina Republican Gov. Nikki Haley announced on Aug. 26 that she was running for a second term she said she was proud of South Carolina for not expanding Medicaid "just because President Obama said we needed to do so." Her Democrat opponent, State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, has charged that failure to expand Medicaid has cost South Carolina jobs.
Haley won by 4.5 points over Sheheen in the 2010 race. She has tried to make their 2014 race a critique of the Obama administration, which is unpopular in South Carolina. Sheheen has tried to localize the race by emphasizing that the nation's largest breach of data from state agencies occurred during Haley's term. Hackers stole millions of taxpayers' Social Security numbers, tax records and credit card numbers from the State Department of Finance.
In Texas, Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who mounted an unsuccessful presidential bid in 2012, opposed expansion of the state's Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act. In 2012, Texas had the highest rate of people without health insurance: 24.6 percent. The nation's rate of uninsured people was 15.4 percent, the Census Bureau reports.
Less than four months after a filibuster in the Texas Senate against proposed legislation to restrict access to abortions made her famous across the nation, Wendy Davis announced her bid for Texas governor Sept. 26. Davis faces an uphill fight because her likely opponent will be Attorney General Greg Abbott, a conservative Republican. No Democrat has been elected to statewide office since 1994 when George W. Bush defeated Ann Richards, the state's most recent Democratic governor.
Davis, a twice-divorced mother of two who struggled to make ends meet as a single mother, plans to focus on education and equal opportunities during her campaign. Nineteen percent of women in Texas are poor. Thirty-eight percent of single parents with children are below the poverty line.
Sharon Johnson is a New York freelance writer.
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