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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

We Still Have A Long Way To Go: Women As Lieutenant Governors

But for Jennifer Carroll, Alex Sink might well be governor of Florida today. She lost by only about 65,000 votes among more than five million cast. Alex is a white woman, and a strong probability exists that those 65,000 votes came from people who wanted to set the precedent of having an African-American woman as lieutenant governor.

And now Carroll has been strangely cast aside, with Republican Governor Rick Scott not even directly explaining why he asked his aide to ask her to resign. Her military background made it seem natural to her to obey, but as it gets closer to the next election, let’s hope that she will be talk more about her ouster.

The same is true for Jim Greer, former head of the Florida Republican Party. Let’s hope that he will tell the truth about why he suddenly pled guilty to corruption charges, after years of saying that others should be blamed. Presumably he’s sitting in prison now because someone promised big money in return for his silence. Especially Republicans, whose donations he so freely spent, should demand to know the whole truth. It’s interesting how they make “scandals” out of tragedies such as the deaths of diplomats, while ignoring the robbery of their own coffers.

(And by the way, did you know that Greer has only a GED? The temerity is staggering: Republicans want to claim a lock on educational policy, especially colleges and universities, and yet they chose a high-school dropout as their leader. I’d really like to see the grade transcripts of these legislators who know so much about quality education!)

But back to Jennifer Carroll and the office of lieutenant governor. As Scott allows it to sit vacant for months, some people question why the office should exist at all. That is a question worth pondering – and the answer depends entirely on the self-confidence of the chief and his willingness to deploy a deputy where needed.

Lawton Chiles was such a man, and his Lieutenant Governor Buddy MacKay was a truly valuable asset to the administration. Buddy did such things as move to Miami to straighten out a financial mess there; he led meetings all over the state to get public input on budget cuts that had to be implemented when they inherited a revenue shortage from the previous (Republican) administration.

Indeed, willingness or unwillingness to use the constitutional office seems to indicate still another difference between Florida’s parties. Jeb Bush, too, apparently viewed the lieutenant governorship as less than an essential part of his team: Frank Brogan ran with him, but just months after they won, Brogan resigned to accept a more secure and lucrative university presidency.

Bush then chose Toni Jennings, a well-qualified woman, but she was appointed, not elected. With Jennifer Carroll’s early resignation, the result is that Florida still has not had a female lieutenant governor who served a full term. (And if you are wondering where Democrats are on this, the first to choose a woman as his running mate was Jim Williams, who ran with Betty Castor in 1978.)

* * *

It would seem that more male candidates would improve their chances of election by inviting a woman to run with them, but that has not been the case either in Florida or the nation. I did a lot of musing about this while writing a section on lieutenant governors for my Women in American Politics: History and Milestones, published by Congressional Quarterly Press.

Because the lieutenant governorship is a secondary position, one might expect that women would come early in electoral history, but in fact five women were governors before the nation had its first female lieutenant governor. Thirty years passed between the election of the first governors in 1924 (Texas and Wyoming), and the first lieutenant governor, in 1954 in Vermont.

This is not because women rejected the secondary place, but because lieutenant governorships may be government’s ultimate insider-baseball position – and women never have done well at insider politics. Most gubernatorial candidates look for trusted friends as running mates, and until very recently, social barriers prevented women from establishing close friendships with men.

The power of the office also varies greatly. In a few states, notably Texas and California, the constitution mandates specific job assignments – but eight states do not have the office at all. In the event of a vacancy, the secretary of state or the senate president assumes the office. This has had special impact in Arizona, where two of its four female governors moved up from secretary of state when governors were arrested. In Florida, however, we recently gave up our right to elect our secretary of state.

Twenty-three states are like Florida in that the governor and lieutenant governor run as a team. Nineteen others, however, cling to an older, more populist tradition in which the two run separately. The not infrequent result is that the winners may be of different parties and even political enemies. Iowa Lieutenant Governor Jo Ann Zimmerman, a Democrat, said that Republican Governor Terry Brandstad never met with her once during the four years of their presumably mutual administration.

Another variation can be seen in the very first woman to be a lieutenant governor: Consuelo Northrop Bailey was elected by her colleagues as president of the Vermont Senate, a position that also was the lieutenant governor. A Republican, Bailey was a feminist and so non-partisan that Eleanor Roosevelt repeatedly praised her. Despite Bailey’s excellent reputation, twenty years passed before another woman became a lieutenant governor.

That was 1974, when Democratic New York Governor Hugh Carey chose attorney Mary Ann Krupsak as his running mate. When she felt her skills were underutilized, she ran against him in 1978. Not surprisingly, she lost the primary; even feminists saw her behavior as excessively ambitious and disloyal to her mentor.

The third female lieutenant governor, elected in 1975, probably is the most interesting. Thelma Stovall was acting governor of Kentucky several times, including when she was secretary of state, a position she held on and off for three decades. Her first experience as acting governor was in 1959, when both the governor and lieutenant governor went out of state. She took the opportunity to issue several pardons, including one to a man sentenced to life for a very petty theft. As acting governor again in 1978, she vetoed the legislature’s repeal of its ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.

The first woman in the Deep South was Democrat Nancy Stephenson of South Carolina in 1978. Candidates ran separately there, and the former international journalist won convincingly. When she died in 2001, the legislature passed a resolution that included mention of a “T-shirt bearing her image and the slogan: Not one of the good old boys!”

As of 2011, when I wrote the CQ book, 37 women had been elected lieutenant governor in 36 states, with Vermont being the only one to do so twice. Its Madeline Kunin, elected in 1978, went on to be governor. Just four other women have emulated her in rising from the secondary position to the top one: they are in Delaware, Montana, Oklahoma, and North Carolina. Of the total 37, one (in Connecticut) was an Independent; twelve were Republicans; and 24 were Democrats.

Just one female gubernatorial candidate of a major party has taken the risk of choosing another woman as her running mate. Lieutenant Governor Olene Walker became governor of Utah when the incumbent resigned in 2003. The Mormon mother of seven and grandmother of two dozen, she has a doctorate in government and served many years in the legislature; her peers respected her enough that they elected her to chair the National Association of Lieutenant Governors. But when Walker chose another well-qualified woman to run with her in 2005, Utah Republicans – who hold a convention, not a primary -- refused to nominate their incumbent governor.

We still have a long way to go.

Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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