Friday, October 30, 2009

Ruth Ann Minner, Delaware Governor, 2000-2008

Ruth Ann Minner (January 17, 1935) is an American politician and businesswoman from Milford, in Kent County, Delaware. She is a member of the Democratic Party who served in the Delaware General Assembly, as Lieutenant Governor of Delaware and two terms as the first female Governor of Delaware.

Minner was born Ruth Ann Coverdale, at Slaughter Neck in Cedar Creek Hundred, Sussex County, Delaware, near Milford. While growing up, she left high school at age 16 to help support her family. Subsequently she married Frank Ingram with whom she had three children: Frank Jr., Wayne and Gary. When she was 32 her husband died suddenly of a heart attack, leaving her a single mother with three children. She earned her GED in 1968 and later attended Delaware Technical & Community College, while working two jobs to support the family. In 1969 she married Roger Minner and together they operated a family towing business, the Roger Minner Wrecker Service. Roger Minner died of cancer in 1991.
Ruth Ann Minner began her political career as a clerk in the Delaware House of Representatives and as a receptionist in the office of Governor Sherman W. Tribbitt. In 1974 she was elected to the State House as a member of the "Watergate Class," a group of newly elected legislators from both parties, who came into office on a "good government" mission and a strong sense of their ability to make significant improvements. Minner rose to become Delaware's most powerful female politician, but she did it in a very conventional way, representing a rural, small town constituency, and building relationships and expertise by working in the legislative process over many years. She served four terms in the State House, from the 1975/1976 session through the 1981/82 session. At various times she served as House Majority Whip and chair of the powerful Bond Bill Committee. She also chaired the Rules Committee. In that role she led several successful reforming efforts, including a change that removed the rule allowing Representatives to table roll call votes. This rule was used to help schedule votes when only the right combinations of Representatives were on the floor.
In 1982 Minner was elected to the Delaware Senate and served there from the 1983/1984 session through the 1991/1992 session. While in the State Senate Minner was noted for her sponsorship of the Delaware Land and Water Conservation Act, a key piece of legislation that protected 30,000 acres (120 km²) of land and created the Delaware Open Space Council. To fund the activities of this Council the General Assembly created the "Twenty-First Century Fund" from the proceeds of a multi-million dollar corporate securities lawsuit. Elected Lieutenant Governor in 1992, she served two terms from January 19, 1993 to January 3, 2001. While in that position she chaired the Minner Commission on Government Reorganization and Effectiveness.
Minner was elected Governor of Delaware in 2000. She had secured the Democratic nomination after her long years in the General Assembly, as Lieutenant Governor and her demonstrated ability to run a campaign by her large statewide victory margins in 1992 and 1996. Minner won easily. As the incumbent Lieutenant Governor Minner took office upon the resignation of Governor Thomas R. Carper on January 3, 2001. She served as the first female President of the Council of State Governments in 2005.
Minner was Delaware’s fourth consecutive two term governor and largely continued the business oriented policies and bipartisan, consensus style begun by her Republican predecessor. She was usually described as a "middle-of-the-road politician, with conservative fiscal views but progressive social policies." As governor, she worked to decrease cancer rates in Delaware, saying she "...was determined to reduce Delaware's high cancer rates. A task force...has created a road map of specific steps necessary...and I am implementing that plan. [One] result has been...the Clean Indoor Air Act, which has reduced cancerous pollutants in Delaware's restaurants, bars, and casinos by more than 90 percent."
Regarding education, she said, "While it might be popular, it is not demanding to set standards that all students can meet right away...Once high standards have been set, the key is to give our students, educators and parents the tools to continuously improve." She supported "giving local schools control of [most] new education dollars...expanding after-school and weekend class programs...and supports reading and math specialists." She opposed vouchers. “In 2005, she signed legislation creating the Student Excellence Equals Degree (SEED) Scholarship program, which enables students who keep their grades up and stay out of trouble to go to college for free in the state of Delaware. She also expanded her education specialist program, which has placed reading specialists in every elementary school, to also include a plan to place math specialists in every Delaware middle school.”
On other issues she was "a firm supporter of a measure that would simply add sexual orientation to the list of characteristics in the Delaware code...that are not allowed to be used as basis for discrimination." She opposed "new gun control legislation," but supported "legislation requiring mandatory trigger locks and gun safety courses in schools." And she said "I do not support additional sites or kinds of gambling...the state should not become any more reliant on this form of revenue."
In her second inaugural address in January 2005, Minner concluded with this description of her philosophy: "for Ruth Ann Minner, farmer, gardener and daughter of a sharecropper, it is simply this: Work hard. Do the right thing. And leave things better than you found them."

Governing Women

There is a reason for the close connection between the words "government" and "governor:" governorships are, in fact, where the power is. Except for the U.S. President, the governors of the 50 states wield more individual influence than any other official.

This correlates with the history of women as elected officials. Tens of thousands have won elections to office from school board to Congress, and many hundreds have won other statewide offices, but only 25-women have been elected as governors.

The first woman to hold statewide office was Laura Eisenhuth, who won her race for North Dakota's state superintendent of schools in 1892 -- before women there had full voting rights. Several western states emulated that, and all except New Mexico granted full voting rights prior to 1920, when the 19th Amendment enfranchised all women. Nowhere, however, did any woman seriously campaign for governor until 1924, when Texas elected Miriam A. "Ma" Ferguson and Wyoming elected Nellie Taloe Ross.

Governor Ferguson remains the nation's only female governor elected to non-consecutive terms, as Texans chose her again in 1932. Then there was a long dry spell before Alabama elected Lurleen Wallace in 1966, a surrogate for her husband, segregationist George Wallace. She died in office from cancer in 1968.

Because all three of these women had husbands who preceded them in politics and could build on their husband's who preceded them in politics and could build on their husbands' networks, Connecticut's Ella Grasso sometimes is considered the first "real" female governor. Elected in 1974, she never lost a race in a long political career and moved from Congress to the governorship. Unfortunately, Governor Grasso also succumbed to cancer and died just five weeks after resigning. Her husband, an educator, had stayed so far in the background that when she died, many were surprised that she was married.

The 1976 election brought the nation's only female governor who never married -- Washington scientist Dixy Ray Lee. Washington has gone to elect a second female governor, Christine Gregorie, who currently holds office. It also has women -- Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell -- in both of its U.S. Senate seats, making it the only state thus far to have women in three top jobs.

Arizona set another kind of record in 1998, when women won all of its five statewide offices. Jane Dee Hull was elected governor in her own right in 1998; she previously served as Secretary of State and when the scandal-plagued incumbent resigned in 1997, she became governor. Arizona's attorney general at the time was Janet Napolitano, who went on the governship in 2002 and now heads the Department of Homeland Security. When she left for Washington n 2009, Jan Brewer replaced Governor Napolitano -- giving Arizona three consecutive female governors. It had a fourth in Rose Mofford, who replaced another man forced to resign in 1988, but didn’t to seek election in her own right.

Five other women have served as governors without ever being elected to the position, but the elected women, in chronological order, are: 1924, Nellie Taloe Ross, Wyoming; 1924, Miriam "Ma" Ferguson", Texas; 1966, Lurleen Wallace, Alabama; 1974, Ella Tambussi Grasso, Connecticut; 1976, Dixy Lee Ray, Washington; 1983, Martha Layne Collins, Kentucky; 1984Madeline M. Kunin, Vermont; 1986, Kay A. Orr, Nebraska; 1920, Joan Finney, Kansas; 1990, Barbara Roberts, Oregon; 1990, Ann Richards, Texas; 1994, Christine Todd Whitman, New Jersey; 1996, Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire; 1998, Jane Dee Hull, Arizona; 2000, Ruth Ann Minner, Delaware; 2000, Judy Martz, Montana; 2002, Linda Lingle, Hawaii; 2002, Jenifer Granholm, Michigan; 2002, Janet Napolitano, Arizona; 2002, Kathleen Sibelius, Kansas; 2003, Kathleen Blanco, Louisiana; 2004, Christine Gregoire, Washington[ 2006, Sarah Palin, Alaska; 2006, Jodi Rell, Connecticut; and 2008, Bev Perdue, North Carolina.

At least three women have announced their candidacy for governorships next year. Florida CFO Alex Sink is the likely Democratic nominee there, while Democratic Lieutenant Governor Dian Denish is aiming at the top job in New Mexico. U.S. Senator Kay Baily Hutchinson, A Republican, is running in Texas: if she wins, she will bhe state's third female governor, following Ferguson (who was elected in both 1924 and 1932) and Ann Richards, who won in 1990.

More women probably will be candidates in 2010, but even if they all win, the likelihood is that the majority of states will not pass the milestone of electing a female governor. Because several states have chosen women more than once, a majority has yet to set this precedent. It would be nice to think that all will have done so by 2024 -- the 100th anniversary of the first -- but that is a more fifteen years away.

(NWHM consultant Dore Weaterford is wring Women & Polirtics for Congressional Quarterlhy Press, to be published in 2011.  This is a summary of the chapters on governors.;

Nellie Tayloe Ross,Governor, First Woman Appointed to Major Office

Nellie Tayloe Ross (Nov. 29, 1976) was born in St. Joseph, Missouri, a longtime "jumping-off-place" for wagon trains, and she benefited from the strong heritage of Western women.  She accompanied her attorney husband to Cheyenne as a bride in 1902 and live a conventional life until his dealth in 1924.  He was then in the middle of a term as governor, and she was elected to fill the two remaining years until the next scheduled gubernatiorial election.  On Jan. 5, 1925, the nation had its first female governor. She served until January of 1927, having lost the 1926 election.  She did not give up on a political career, however, and moved to the East Coast to work for the national Democratic Party. When Franklin Roosevelt won his landslide in 1932, he became the first President to appoint women to major offices.  Quick to reward Ross for her loyalty, he appointed her director of the U.S. Mint within weeks of his inauguration.
The first woman to serve in this position, she found a demoralized staff and a meager budget, but went on to skillfully administer the office.  After overcoming the problems of the Great Depression, she dealt with those of World War II, including a servere paper shortage and Nazi attempts to counterfeit money. After 20 years as director of the Mint, Ross retired in 1953.
She was the first American woman to have her image struck on a medal made by the Mint and is also honored on the cornerstone of the famous Fort Knox Bullion Depository, which was built under her leadership.  Although she is usually remembered for her governorship of Wyoming, Nellie Tayloe Ross actually spent most of her life in Washngton.  Nellie Tayloe Ross lived on to 101, seemingly an anachronism to the publlic.  Her death in the same year as Elvis Presley's was little noted. (Source National Women's History Museum,

Martha Berry, Georgia

Martha Berry (Oct. 7, 1886)

The daughter of wealthy Georgia planter, Martha Berry, went to a Baltimore finishing school, but returned to the Deep Southern and spent the rest of her days educating the poor. She began with her own novel approach, traveling by horse and wagon in the hill country near her Rome, Georgia home to teach Bible stories to isolated children. Known as the “Sunday School Lady of the Mountains,” her method came to be followed throughout the South.

In 1902, Berry pioneered a second educational method that also was emulated. She built a log cabin school on her father’s plantation and allowed her students to earn their tuition with work. Because publicly funded educations were a rarity in the Deep South, students quickly took advantage of the opportunity. In 1926, Berry College was added to the system, and by the time she died, Mount Berry Schools had 1300 students who lived, studied, and worked 35,000 acres of land.

Although she had no formal college education herself, by the 1920s, Berry was nationally recognized as an educational leader. Her work/study combination provided a model for both private and public colleges, and after World War II, southern students of both sexes and all races often worked on the college farm. She was honored with the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Medal “for services to the nation” in 1925, and in 1937, Georgia made her the first woman appointed to its Board of Regents. She died at age 86 in Atlanta, and the “Martha Berry highway” in western Georgia honors her.

(Source: the National Women’s History Museum, located at