Women Governors in the United States: Part II

BLFF Team | Jul 28, 2021


As we look ahead to the 2022 election season, Gender on the Ballot is zeroing in on women governors. Our first post in this series celebrated the women who blazed a trail to the governor’s office, and coming up we will look at the challenges and opportunities that face women when they run to be CEO of a state. Today, we’re looking at the eight women currently holding governorships across the country—how they came to hold their seats, and what we can learn from their success in reaching an executive office level that is still dominated by men. As you’ll see, many of our current woman governors are trailblazers as well.


Kate Brown – Oregon Democrat

Serving since February 18, 2015

Kate Brown is the 38th Governor of Oregon. In 2016, she made history as the first openly LGBT person elected governor and as the second woman elected governor of Oregon. However, her election to the governor’s office wasn’t the only time Brown blazed a new trail. In 1991, she was appointed to the Oregon House of Representatives, and by 2004 she became the first woman to serve as Senate majority leader.

Governor Brown’s path to leading her state includes law school at Lewis & Clark College and holding office as Oregon Secretary of State.


Kay Ivey – Alabama Republican

Serving since April 10, 2017.

Kay Ivey is the 54th Governor of Alabama. Ivey initially ran for governor in 2010 but switched to vying for the lieutenant governor role. When she succeeded in her campaign and became Lieutenant Governor, Ivey was the first Republican woman to hold the office in Alabama’s history. In 2014, Ivey was re-elected, making her the first Republican to win two consecutive terms as lieutenant governor. In 2017, Ivey was sworn in as governor of Alabama after the previous governor, Robert Bentley resigned. Governor Ivey was elected to a full term in 2018, making her the first lieutenant governor of Alabama elected to a full term after taking over as governor due to a vacancy in the office.

Earlier this year, Governor Ivey announced that she is running for reelection in 2022.

Prior to her political career, Governor Ivey was a high school teacher and an employee of Merchants National Bank. She was appointed to the Alabama state cabinet in 1979 by then-Governor Fob James, and also served as State Treasurer before becoming lieutenant governor and then governor.


Laura Kelly- Kansas Democrat

Serving since January 14, 2019

Laura Kelly is the 48th Governor of Kansas. She was elected in May 2018 after serving as a state Senator since 2004. During her tenure as a State Senator, Kelly held the assistant minority leader and minority whip roles. Kelly briefly considered a run for US Congress representing Kansas’s 2nd district in 2009.

In December 2020, Governor Kelly announced that she is running for reelection in 2022.

Governor Kelly’s career prior to politics included earning a Master’s degree in therapeutic recreation, and serving as the Executive Director of the Kansas Recreation and Park Association from 1988 – 2004.


Michelle Lujan Grisham- New Mexico Democrat

Serving since January 1, 2019

Michelle Lujan Grisham is the 32nd governor of New Mexico. She succeeded Susana Martinez as the leader of New Mexico; Martinez had been the first woman of color governor in the United States. Today, Lujan Grisham is the only woman of color governor. Governor Lujan Grisham was a member of Congress prior to becoming CEO of New Mexico. She served in the US Congress from 2013 – 2018 when she resigned her seat to become governor. Lujan Grisham first sought congressional office in 2008, but lost the Democratic primary nomination.

In June of this year, Governor Lujan Grisham announced that she is running for reelection in 2022.

Along the way to becoming governor, Lujan Grisham earned a JD from the University of New Mexico School of Law; she was director of the New Mexico Aging and Long-Term Services Department; and she was named New Mexico Secretary of Health.


Janet Mills- Maine Democrat

Serving since January 2, 2019.

Janet Mills is the 75th Governor of Maine and the first woman to serve as leader of the state. Prior to her election as governor, Mills served in the Maine House of Representatives from 2002 – 2009. She was also the attorney general of Maine from 2009 – 2011 and again from 2013 – 2019—she broke barriers in that role as well, as the first woman to hold the position. Earlier in her career, Mills was the first woman criminal prosecutor in Maine when she was assistant attorney general in the late 1970s; and she was also the first woman district attorney in all of New England.

Governor Mills’s path to politics included a time of working in a psychiatric hospital in San Fransisco, attending the University of Maine School of Law, and interning at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).


Kristi Noem- South Dakota Republican

Serving since January 5, 2019.

Kristi Noem is the 33rd Governor and the first woman Governor of South Dakota. Before she was elected to South Dakota governor’s office, Noem represented her state in the US House of Representatives from 2011 – 2019. And she was previously a member of the South Dakota House of Representatives for four years (starting in 2007), where she served as Assistant Majority Leader.

Governor Noem’s career before entering politics included growing up on her family ranch and farm, and operating the farm after her father passed away in a sudden accident. Under her management, the farm added a hunting lodge. Governor Noem attended South Dakota State, and finished her degree in political science in 2012 while serving as a member of Congress.


Kim Reynolds- Iowa Republican

Serving since May 24, 2017.

Kim Reynolds is the 43rd Governor and the first woman Governor of Iowa. Governor Reynolds took office as the leader of her state when Terry Branstad was selected as US Ambassador to China. She had served as lieutenant governor starting in 2011, after a tenure in the Iowa State Senate from 2009 – 2010. In 2018, Governor Reynolds ran for and won a full term in office. Her early political career also includes serving as a county treasurer for four terms.

While serving as lieutenant governor in 2016, Governor Reynolds completed her bachelors degree from Iowa State University. She describes herself as a “small-town, rural Iowa girl at heart.”


Gretchen Whitmer- Michigan Democrat

Serving since January 1, 2019.

Gretchen Whitmer is the 49th Governor of Michigan. Governor Whitmer served as a member of the Michigan House of Representatives (2001 – 2006), and in the Michigan Senate (2006 – 2015) prior to becoming leader of her state. While in the state senate, Whitmer was the first woman Democrat to lead the legislative body. As an attorney, Whitmer also served as a county prosecutor in Michigan in 2016.

Governor Whitmer’s path to the governor’s office includes law school at Detroit College of Law at Michigan State University.










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