Stateline Story

'Fab Five' Give Arizona Something to Brag About

  • February 03, 1999
  • By Beverly Medlyn

Arizona has become a political trailblazer by installing women in its top five elected posts -- a first among the 50 states.

"We have varying responsibilities, we have different styles and we even may have some philosophical differences. But we share a commitment to working together for the betterment of the state of Arizona," Gov. Jane Hull said after an inaugural ceremony at the Arizona Capitol Mall in Phoenix last month.

The Fab Five, as their media-imposed moniker would have it, have drawn national publicity, including the dubious distinction of having their faces superimposed over theSpice Girls bodies in George, the chic monthly political magazine edited by John F. Kennedy, Jr.

Positive stories touting the women's success are a welcome change for a state accustomed to notice for less progressive policies and politicians.

Heretofore, Arizona has been known nationally for being among the last states to approve a holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.; for the tribulations of disgraced former Arizona governors Evan Mecham (impeached and removed from office in 1988) and Fife Symington (convicted of fraud in 1997); and for the peculiar town of Kingman -- a magnet for extremists in the Oklahoma City bombing case.

"It's nice to have this kind of notice for five people as articulate and bright as this group," says Phoenix political consultant Alfredo Gutierrez, a former legislator. "Theircampaigns generated the same passion and feeling you had in the civil rights movement.

"I think a heckuva lot of people voted for these women on that basis. It transcended any specific stand they took on issues," he said.

In addition to Hull, the Fab Five are Secretary of State Betsey Bayless, Attorney General Janet Napolitano, Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan and State Treasurer Carol Springer. They were sworn in by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, an Arizonan who became the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Hull and Bayless, both Republicans who have been politically active for more than 20 years, assumed their current posts just over a year ago, following Symington's resignation. Voters apparently were satisfied with their first-year performance and saw no reason to oust them.

Republicans Springer and Keegan -- also well regarded, seasoned pols -- coasted to victory in the primary election with no Democratic opposition.

Napolitano, a former U.S. Attorney for Arizona, is the sole Democrat. She narrowly eked out a victory over her male Republican opponent, thereby becoming the first woman elected to the state's top cop job.

Child welfare was a common theme in the women's campaigns, ranging from Napolitano's pledge to aggressively prosecute child abuse cases to Keegan's advocacy of a controversial test setting higher standards for high school graduation. But aside from that focus on traditional women's issues, gender wasn't talked about.

Political observers believe the women will work well with one another in the political and legislative arenas because they are effective, reasonable people, not because they share the same sex chromosome.

"If there is a political difference between them, I think they'll treat it the same way the guys do with one exception -- they don't have the same braggadocio need men have to thump their chests and declare victory," Gutierrez says.

The few remaining men in state leadership posts are adapting with grace.

House Speaker Jeff Groscost recently told a group how flattered he was to be introduced as the most powerful man in Arizona. "That sounds good, until you realize I'm the only man in state government," he said.