Women Leading the States

Mar 15, 2019

By Craig Auster, PAC & Advocacy Partnerships Director

Last year was historic for women running to be the chief executive of their state. Sixteen women were major party nominees for governor, smashing the previous record set in 1994 when 10 women were gubernatorial nominees in the general election. Nine of the women running in 2018 won their race, and now they’re running their states.

Even with this progress, many barriers remain for women seeking the governorship. A stunning 20 states still have never had a woman governor and 20 states only have had one woman governor. And despite Stacey Abrams’ strong campaign last year, no black or Native American women have ever been elected governor.  

In short, gender equity and the ways it’s represented in our elected leadership is still imperfect, but we’ve made progress — and, as it turns out, this progress is also good for our environment.  

LCV and our state partners were proud to have helped elect or re-elect four of the six current pro-environment women governors, and now, we’re working together to advance climate and clean energy policies that will make a real difference for communities and planet.

Maine — Governor Janet Mills is a Breath of Fresh Air

In Maine, our partner Maine Conservation Voters Action Fund (MCVAF) helped elect Janet Mills as the first woman governor after 199 years of statehood. Mills has already proved a champion on climate action and, along with the strengthened pro-environment majorities in the legislature, will push clean energy forward in Maine. In her inaugural address, Mills said:

But today our connection to the land is endangered. After 80 years of studies warning that carbon emissions are destroying our environment, the danger is now at our doorstep… Tonight I say, enough. Enough with studies, talk, and debate. It is time to act!

Mills has also joined the U.S. Climate Alliance, pledged to get 100 percent of Maine’s electricity from renewable sources by 2050, lifted former Governor Paul LePage’s  moratorium on wind turbine permits, committed to putting solar panels on the governor’s mansion, and moved to allow additional reviews of the New England Clean Energy Connect project to move forward.

Michigan — Governor Gretchen Whitmer is Laying a Clean Foundation

In Michigan, Michigan LCV’s Conservation Voters Michigan (CVM) PAC helped elect Gretchen Whitmer to the governor’s office, framing the debate with their #OurWaterOurVote campaign, highlighting the drinking water challenges facing communities across the state in rural, suburban, and urban areas alike. Already, Whitmer has signed an executive order to create the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), which will fight for clean drinking water, protect the Great Lakes, mitigate PFAS, and address climate change, and Whitmer has joined the U.S. Climate Alliance to meet Michigan’s goals under the Paris Climate Accord.

New Mexico — Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is Setting High Standards

In New Mexico, Conservation Voters New Mexico’s Verde Voters Fund (VVF), helped elect
clean energy champion Michelle Lujan Grisham as governor of New Mexico, a historic election resulting in the first pro-environment Latina governor in our country. With the pro-environment majorities in the legislature strengthened, New Mexico has already made progress towards the vision the new governor put forth in her election night speech:

Gone are the days where anyone talks about New Mexico not being in first place. We will lead from today and on in renewable clean energy and we will be known as the clean energy state of America.

Lujan Grisham has already committed the Land of Enchantment to the U.S. Climate Alliance and is poised to sign SB 489, the Energy Transition Act, which recently passed the New Mexico state legislature with bipartisan support. This bill strengthens the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard to 50 percent by 2030 and 100 percent carbon-free by 2045.

Oregon — Governor Kate Brown has Made Clean Energy a Part of the Job

The Oregon League of Conservation Voters PAC’s (OLCV PAC) unprecedented investment in the 2018 elections led to huge victories, most critically a big 50 to 44 percent triumph for Governor Kate Brown, the first openly LGBTQ+ woman elected governor in our country. With the new super majorities in both chambers of the state legislature that OLCV PAC helped win, Oregon is positioned to pass a strong, comprehensive Clean Energy Jobs bill, which will truly hold polluters accountable and set the state on an ambitious path to clean energy.

Other States — Governors Laura Kelly and Gina Raimondo are Expanding Clean Energy

Rounding out the six pro-environment women governors are new Governor Laura Kelly of Kansas and Governor Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island, who was re-elected in 2018. Despite Kansas’s reputation as a deeply conservative state and home base of the fossil fuel billionaire Koch brothers, Kelly has said:

I believe climate change is a serious issue and human activity is a major contributor. In Kansas, farmers and ranchers deal with this problem first hand. And we must do what we can to mitigate challenges caused by climate change – like fund the state’s 50 year water plan and continue to encourage renewable energy use. We also need the federal government, in conjunction with other countries, to take meaningful action on climate change so that future generations can continue to live in healthy communities.

Raimondo has worked to bring clean energy jobs to the Ocean State, especially expanding offshore wind as well as solar, was an early member of the U.S. Climate Alliance, and recently announced a new initiative to preserve and invest in Rhode Island’s beloved parks and beaches.


These women are role models for the next generation of young women who care about the future of our planet — and with these women governors commanding some of the most powerful positions in our country, our next generation can now see more leaders who look like them, which we hope is a step towards encouraging more women to run for office and more gender equity in our representation.