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Anti-Choice Female Governors Poised for Gain

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Today's elections are likely to advance the number of anti-choice female governors. Only one solidly pro-choice female candidate--Alex Sink in Florida--enjoys a polling lead.

 

A supporter of Republican Nikki Haley in South Carolina.(WOMENSENEWS)--In the small number of races where women are running for governor today--eight out of 37--the anti-choice female candidates appear poised for more election victories.

The total field of female gubernatorial candidates is an even 10, split into a handful from each party: five Democrats and five Republican.

This mirrors the symmetry of the current six women who run state governments, divided into three Democrats and three Republicans.

But on the issue of abortion rights and who's likely to win, the balance is likely to tip after these elections toward anti-choice Republican women.

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Only one of the six female gubernatorial candidates who is solidly pro-choice--Alex Sink in Florida--enjoys a polling lead and even she's not considered a shoo-in.

Meanwhile, three anti-choice female candidates--Republican Gov. Jan Brewer in Arizona, GOP's Mary Fallin in Oklahoma and Republican Nikki Haley in South Carolina--are strong frontrunners.

Governors can set the agenda on abortion by exercising their veto power over bills regarding reproductive rights. Retiring Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, an independent who has taken contradictory positions on abortion rights, stood up for choice in June when he vetoed a bill that would have forced women seeking abortions to pay out of pocket and receive an ultrasound.

The five GOP women running for governor in these elections are all endorsed by Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska who is anti-choice. Of this Republican handful, only one--former e-Bay CEO Meg Whitman in California--is pro-choice.

With the exception of Oklahoma's Jari Askins, the Democratic women running for governor are strongly pro-choice.

Here's a quick look at these contests.

Florida's Sink in Democratic Spotlight

For Democrats, one of the most important races involves female candidate Sink in Florida, a state President Obama hopes to carry in 2012. In this race, the pro-choice Sink is running with a narrow polling advantage over Republican businessman Rick Scott. On his Web Site, Scott states: "I believe that abortion is wrong and Roe versus Wade should be overturned." Sink drew negative attention when she was caught breaking the rules of a recent debate with her opponent after receiving a helpful text message from an aide. After her opponent made an issue out of it, the aide was dismissed from Sink's campaign.

Arizona Has Lone Female Incumbent

In Arizona, Republican Gov. Brewer is the only one of this year's pack of 10 female candidates who is running as an incumbent. As such, she joins a rare few female governors--less than a dozen--who have ever sought re-election.

Brewer has attracted national attention for signing the country's most inhospitable immigrant law. In 2009, this anti-choice lawmaker succeeded Janet Napolitano, who resigned to become secretary of the Department of Homeland Security in Obama's administration.

Brewer is the third consecutive woman to serve as governor of Arizona. The strong frontrunner, Brewer is being challenged by Attorney General Terry Goddard, a pro-choice Democrat who has supported funding for domestic violence shelters when he was attorney general from 2002 to the present, as well as the Paycheck Fairness Act, aimed at ending wage discrimination against women.

 

New Mexico, Oklahoma Host Woman-Woman Races

The 2010 elections feature two woman-woman open races for governor, a high-water mark for such contests. Only two woman-woman gubernatorial races have occurred before: the 1986 Nebraska race between Democrat Helen Boosalis and Republican Kay Orr, where Orr won, and the 2002 Hawaii race between Republican Linda Lingle and Democrat Mazie Hirono. Lingle won.

In New Mexico, Democrat Diane Denish, backed by the pro-choice Emily's List, and Republican Susana Martinez are vying to become that state's first female governor. The Republican candidate is slightly ahead in recent polls.

In Oklahoma, one of the most restrictive states for abortion, Democrat Askins and the GOP's Fallin are also vying to break the gender barrier. Fallin is anti-choice and says that she wants courts to eventually re-examine Roe v. Wade, though she approves of abortions in the cases of rape, incest and maternal health. Askins is also anti-choice and thinks abortions should only be available for women in "hard cases." Oklahoma's current governor Brad Henry vetoed a bill this year that would have required all women receiving an abortion, including rape and incest victims, to first fill out a 30-question survey. Republican Fallin has a big lead in polls.

GOP Down in California, Up in South Carolina

In California, former eBay CEO, Republican Meg Whitman, is trailing Jerry Brown, the state's current attorney general who previously served two terms as governor. As governor, Brown appointed women to one-third of state posts, fought for equal pay for women and the workplace rights for gays and lesbians. Whitman takes a hard anti-immigration stand and shows no leniency for undocumented immigrants. She has said she opposes bilingual education and will defend the state's English immersion requirements while banning undocumented immigrants from community colleges and acquiring driver's licenses. Whitman was found to have an undocumented immigrant working for her as a housekeeper.

In South Carolina, pro-choice voters have no option. Both Republican Haley and Democrat Vincent Sheheen are anti-choice. Haley is losing some of her large early polling lead over Sheheen, a member of the South Carolina Senate. If Haley wins she would not only make history as the first female governor of South Carolina, but as the first Indian-American governor of the state and only the second in U.S. history. The 38-year-old daughter of Indian immigrants takes a strong anti-immigrant stand and opposes same-sex marriage.

Democrats Lag in Maine, Wyoming

In Maine, Democrat Libby Mitchell, endorsed by Emily's List, is a long shot for making history as the state's first female governor. She runs as the state's first woman to serve as both president of the Senate and as speaker of the House. Mitchell lags in polls in a three- way race with Republican Paul Lepage and Independent Eliot Cutler.

In Wyoming, Democrat Leslie Petersen, former chair of the state Democratic Party, has been trailing Republican Matt Mead, who opposes health reform as "unconstitutional" and is anti-choice. Petersen says she "hates" to see the government involved in social issues, but she supports abortion and same-sex marriage.

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Mary Kate Boylan is an editorial intern at Women's eNews and a communications major with a concentration in journalism at Manhattan College in the Bronx. N.Y.

For more information:

Center for American Women and Politics:
http://www.cawp.rutgers.edu/

 
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The 2008 election cycle, which saw Hillary Clinton coming very close to winning the Democratic nomination and Sarah Palin becoming just the second woman on a party’s presidential ticket, resulted in record registration and high turnout numbers for women voters. What the 2008 election showed is that a great motivating factor for women voters is having a viable female candidate running for high office on the ballot.

Beginning with Sarah Palin, we’ve seen a trend of female Republican candidates coming to the forefront, especially in gubernatorial races. The 2010 election saw four of the female Republican candidates mentioned above elected (Brewer, Martinez, Fallin and Haley), none of whom are pro-choice. Simultaneously, not one female Democratic candidate was elected governor. Now, female Republican Governors outnumber female Democratic Governors 4-2.

The rise in prominence and number of women in the Republican Party helps to explain why more and more women are registering Republican. As the 2008 election has shown us, the presence of viable female candidates galvanizes women voters. While the Democratic Party has consistently been far more supportive of women’s rights and gender equality than has the Republican Party, the Democratic Party is falling behind in its number of rising-star female leaders. Kirsten Gillibrand is the only female Democratic politician who I believe has any chance of building a legitimate run for the presidency somewhere in the future. The lack of rising women candidates for high office in the Democratic Party is compounded by the fact that women are becoming increasingly frustrated with President Obama’s lack of accomplishments in the area of women’s rights. Simply put, women have less affinity for the Democratic Party than they did a decade ago.

But this is a double-edged sword. The upswing in women’s political participation, beginning in the 2008 election, has prompted deeply reactionary responses from misogynists in the political arena. This has manifested itself in the form of the recent attacks by conservatives on a woman’s right to contraception – attacks which get uglier day by day. However, I believe the Republican Party will continue to use female candidates, as they did with Sarah Palin in 2008, to try and win over more and more female voters, without having to sacrifice their anti-choice platform, or without having to get serious about fighting for gender equality. After all, for the first time in history, a Gallup poll has revealed that those who consider themselves pro-choice do not outnumber those who identify as pro-life.

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