Kathy Hochul’s rise in New York spotlights the barriers to women becoming governors


When Kathy Hochul is sworn in this week, she will become the first woman to serve as governor of New York, stepping down from her post as lieutenant governor following Andrew Cuomo’s resignation. The Democrat will also be one of nine female governors in America – and one of four to have reached the post for the first time by succession rather than by election.

Of the 44 women who served as governors before Hochul, who is expected to be sworn in on Tuesday, 11 obtained the post thanks to rules in state constitutions that put them at the top of the list as governor when the current incumbent did not. was no longer able to serve. Six later won full terms, including three currently in office: Democratic Governor Kate Brown of Oregon; Republican Governor Kay Ivey of Alabama; and Republican Governor Kim Reynolds of Iowa. Separately, three female governors between the 1920s and 1960s replaced their spouses.

There have been at least 1,000 male governors, according to a general Eagleton Center estimate of the US governor.

Despite gains in representation in state houses, Congress and other statewide offices – women hold lieutenant governor, secretary of state and attorney general positions at rates higher – their representation in the executive leadership of the state remains stubbornly low. After the rise of Hochul, there will still be 19 states that have never had a female governor. America had three governors who were women of color, but voters never elected a black or indigenous woman as governor.

These data highlight persistent barriers for women in leadership. Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, said voters seemed to more easily view women as lawmakers or in other offices statewide rather than as governor or president.

“These are positions where you have to work collaboratively. You work in committees, and that lends itself to notions of where women’s strengths lie, ”she said of legislative roles. “To be the final authority? Be the decisive decision-maker? … I think it fits that masculine image of who leads at this level… It’s part of the gender bias that still exists.

Amanda Hunter, Executive Director of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, calls it a “barrier of imagination”. The foundation studied the barriers women face in being elected governors, such as the likelihood of an incumbent – almost always a man – being re-elected, and even the feeling of women governors and candidates themselves that they have to work. harder to raise money and prove their eligibility (although research shows they do as well as applicants when they go up against men). In a recent poll, the foundation found that many voters still imagine men when asked about hypothetical governors.

“If you ask them to imagine a governor, they have a barrier of imagination when it comes to thinking of women in those roles, and therefore seeing a woman taking over the governorship, seeing a woman occupying the office of governor. mayor, is powerful because it shatters those stereotypes, ”Hunter said.

Walsh said it was important not to underestimate the importance of Hochul’s rise, which will drastically change the dynamics of the next Democratic primary for the governor. (Letitia James, New York attorney general, is among the top potential challengers – which means several women could soon be on the ballot.) Women like Hochul who come to power by succession, despite the realities of what put them in this position, can prove their leadership qualities and bypass a “gauntlet of eligibility” which then changes the situation for future elections.

“They have the opportunity to prove themselves without going through the political gatekeepers that exist, making it difficult for women to run for these positions or to deal with voters and their own gender biases as to who can lead in this. level, ”Walsh said.

Hochul, 62, will replace Cuomo, a three-term Democratic governor who has been accused of sexual harassment and misconduct by several women. Cuomo challenged a state attorney general’s report that described the allegations of 11 women, while primarily defending his actions. Women state legislators have indicated their support for moving forward with Cuomo’s impeachment. While lawmakers are still reviewing their impeachment inquiry, lawmakers say they lack the constitutional authority to impeach Cuomo once he leaves office.

READ MORE: More and more black women are elected. Few people feel safe once there

Although Hochul has said she is working independently of Cuomo’s office, she may still be faced with questions about what she will do to tackle the policies of sexual harassment and a culture of misogyny in state politics. New York which includes allegations of unwanted contact and inappropriate comments from lawmakers and other states. officials. (One of Cuomo’s predecessors, former Governor Eliot Spitzer, resigned his governorship in 2008 after becoming involved in a prostitution ring. Before Hochul was elected lieutenant governor in 2014, she won a special election to Congress after former Rep. Chris Lee resigned for emailing a shirtless photo of himself to a woman he met through Craigslist.)

It’s a double standard for women in positions of power to fix issues, especially those stemming from a scandal related to their ascension, said Lala Wu, co-founder and executive director of Sister District, which assists Democratic candidates. to run for seats of state.

“People are going to expect her to clean the house and make sure there are no Cuomo-like elements elsewhere in the government. But it can be very difficult to do, and it will take a long time, ”she said. “So I certainly expect her to face quite a bit of pressure from all sides, and her job won’t be easy.”

Walsh added: “It is also important to be realistic that women are held at a different and higher level in leadership positions, and we would expect Lt. Gov. Hochul to be sadly. held at a higher level when she takes on this role. “

Hochul, whose staff declined an interview request, attempted to answer some of the questions his administration faces. At her first press conference after Cuomo announced he would step down, she pledged to replace those accused of unethical behavior in the attorney general’s report. She added: “At the end of my term, whenever it ends, no one will ever describe my administration as a toxic work environment. “

Walsh said that upon hearing this pledge, she realized just how much Hochul – who has held several elected positions, including in local government and Congress – has an opportunity to change expectations in Albany. Still, Walsh doesn’t know how quickly someone can completely transform a deep-rooted culture.

“She can kind of be the anti-Andrew Cuomo. And it looks like it already is, ”Walsh said. “I mean just her style, her personality, she seems a little very antithetical to Andrew Cuomo. But I think the risk of course is that… this won’t be a situation she enters, and in 18 months, can change a culture that’s deeply rooted in the state. But she can do a lot to try to transform it.

Hunter said Hochul’s initial confidence-building remarks might help his own eligibility. (Hochul told NBC’s “Today” show that she plans to run for a full term once she completes Cuomo’s term in 2022 – she has indicated she will appoint a lieutenant governor shortly long after being sworn in.) Research shows that voters think “good” governors get things done.

“She already seems to bring a different style that is collaborative, and is very interested in being specific and using metrics and being accountable to voters, what we’ve seen is important to voters, especially during a crisis,” Hunter said.

Hochul said his immediate priority would be to tackle the ongoing pandemic. She has also pledged to release data on nursing home deaths – the state legislature’s impeachment inquiry into Cuomo included examining allegations that he underestimated deaths due. to COVID-19 in nursing homes, which he denied.

Still, Hochul is committed to correcting the work culture in state government, and her plans to run a full term may impact how she views her schedule for results. During an August 15 episode of CBS’s “Face the Nation”, Hochul was asked if she had spoken with the women who alleged that Cuomo had harassed them. She said working conditions will change “1000 percent” for survivors and other women.

“We need their voices. We need this diversity. We are getting there. We are making progress on more elected women. But by the end of my administration, I want every woman to say that there are no barriers, that there is no longer a ceiling. We look forward to and ensure that my reputation and the reputation of my administration is fully ethical. This is how I’ve led my life since I got elected, for 27 years, and also just letting people know it’s a whole new era now. And I’m excited about it.

Disclosure: The The Barbara Lee Family Foundation financially supported The 19th.

Originally published by the 19th


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