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Bridging the gender gap in governor's office
By Laura McCallum
Minnesota Public Radio
December 26, 2001
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There's a good chance the DFL candidate for governor in 2002 will be a woman. Others may still enter the race, but for now, the DFL race is between two women - State Auditor Judi Dutcher and State Sen. Becky Lourey. While female candidates may not seem unusual in the year 2002, it's worth noting that a woman has never been on the ballot for governor in Minnesota. The presence of Dutcher and Lourey in the race has many political observers, especially women, saying it's about time.

Judi Dutcher and Rebecca Yanisch
Gubernatorial candidate Judi Dutcher, right, works the crowd at a recent Minnesota Women's Political Caucus luncheon. Here she talks with state Economic Development commissioner Rebecca Yanisch. Dutcher has been state auditor for the past eight years. Listen to her comments.
(MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)

Judi Dutcher works the crowd at a Minnesota Women's Political Caucus luncheon. This group of politically active women is about to hear a speech that leaves many of them discouraged. Former North Dakota gubernatorial candidate Heidi Heitkamp, who lost to John Hoeven last year, told them that women need to work harder to prove they're qualified to run the state.

"The first challenge you will face is, 'she doesn't look like a governor.'"

Heitkamp tells the story of a North Dakota woman in her 70s who was contacted by Heitkamp's aunt to see if they could list her as a supporter.

"She goes, 'Oh that Heidi Heitkamp! I love her! I have followed her career! I have clipped the newspaper and I have a scrapbook on her accomplishments as attorney general.' My aunt got very excited, she goes, 'Then we can list you as a supporter of Heidi's campaign for governor?' She said, 'Oh, no, dear, that's a man's job,'" Heitkamp relates.

While Minnesotans may think such views don't exist here, both of the women running for governor in Minnesota can cite similar stories from their early days in politics.

Becky Lourey
State Sen. Becky Lourey is also seeking the DFL nomination for governor. So far only she and Judi Dutcher are in the race. Lourey, a state senator, has served in the Legislature since the late 1980s. Listen to her comments.
(MPR Photo/Bob Reha)

Judi Dutcher says when she first ran for auditor eight years ago, she was asked how a woman could handle the state's money. Becky Lourey says when she ran for the Legislature in the late 1980s, people wondered what she would do with her 12 children.

Now the questions are more subtle. Dutcher says when she spoke to a business group earlier this month, she compared the job of governor to that of a company's chief executive officer. Dutcher says an audience member challenged her.

"He said he was a CEO, and why do I think I would even dare to think I'm qualified to be CEO of the state? He thought his auditor who audits his corporation - he didn't view that individual as being qualified to be a CEO," says Dutcher. "I view that as a great opportunity, then, to review my credentials with whoever's asking the question."

Dutcher points out that her predecessors in the auditor's office - former Gov. Arne Carlson and U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton - were viewed as qualified for higher office.

But Dutcher is well aware of some of the obstacles facing women gubernatorial candidates. Only 17 states have had women as chief executives. A report by the Barbara Lee Family Foundation called "Keys to the Governor's Office" found male voters tend to fear that a woman won't be able to manage the state budget during times of trouble.

Becky Lourey says she, too, gets questions about her ability to deal with the state's budget shortfall. She says she cites her experience running a small business with her husband.

Heidi Heitkamp
Heidi Heitkamp, who lost the governor's race in North Dakota last year, told the Minnesota Women's Political Caucus recently that women still must work harder than male candidates to prove they're qualified for higher office.
(MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)

"I talk to them about having served in the Legislature when we were in an economic downturn," says Lourey. "When I talk to them about having all these children - five in college at one time - when we were in an economic downturn in our own family when we had a business setback ... and by the time I'm done talking about that, I think people feel really secure that I have a handle," she says.

Lourey says it's about time that two women are, in her words, "gutsy" enough to take on the top of the ticket. Joanne Benson agrees. The former Republican lieutenant governor was the first woman to run for governor in Minnesota four years ago. She dropped out of the race after losing the Republican endorsement to Norm Coleman. Benson says she was often told she was too nice to be governor.

"It's not the qualifications in terms of - do you know how to do it? I think the qualifications are in terms of - are you tough enough to do it? Can you take the heat?" Benson says.

Benson says she wishes she would have stayed in the race after not getting the endorsement, to see how she would have fared on the primary ballot.

This time out, Lourey has already promised to abide by the DFL endorsement, while Dutcher hasn't made a decision. Both say they hope voters will judge them by their experience and ideas - not their gender. But they know that gender may be a factor in some voters' minds.

More Information
  • Minnesota Women's Political Caucus
  • State Sen. Becky Lourey
  • Judi Dutcher's campaign