A hard race to the top
Texas is a prime example of how even if women pave the way, the governor’s office continues to be a hard place for women to break into.
In 1924, Miriam A. “Ma” Ferguson, a Texas Democrat, was one of the first two women elected governor in the nation. According to historical archives at the University of Texas in Austin, Ferguson was a stand-in for her husband, who had been impeached. Her first stint as chief executive ended in 1927, but she was elected to a second term in 1932.
This year, Texas has two women on the ballot running for governor, Democrat Lupe Valdez and Republican Barbara Krueger, but neither have received much support from their parties and are not expected to make it past the primaries on March 6. A third, Democrat Demetria Smith, is running as a write-in for the general election after she was rejected from the primary ballot.
Smith, 44, a Houston mortgage banker and community activist, decided to run because she said it was the best way to hold law enforcement officers accountable for deadly shootings involving unarmed suspects.
She was also hoping to become the first African-American female governor in Texas until she was bumped from the primary ballot in January by Texas Democratic Party officials over a bounced check for the filing fee.
Smith said she expected state party leaders to disrupt her campaign based on her last two experiences running for elective office and argued she should have been eligible because the check was accepted before the deadline.
“My view is totally different from a lot of these candidates: I am an independent Democrat because I am not controlled by the party, I am controlled by the people,” said Smith, who, as of last week, continued to campaign. “Parties are in place to control democracy. They are in place to control elections and control the candidates that they want voters to vote for.”
Democratic Party officials did not respond to requests for comment about Smith’s status.
Kira Sanbonmatsu, senior scholar at the CAWP, said convincing party leaders and donors that female candidates are viable is one of the main challenges women face.
“Sometimes you find that state party leaders will coalesce early on around certain candidates, so sometimes women won’t run because there is already a favorite for a given position,” Sanbonmatsu said. “So sometimes it’s this informal party process that women face.”
Another challenge facing women candidates who make it to the ballot can be party affiliations and sheer numbers. Among all potential congressional candidates this year, 1,063 are Democrats and 657 are Republicans, according to Dittmar’s report. Women make up fewer than 30 percent of those potential Democratic candidates and fewer than 13 percent of Republicans.
That’s better than in 2016, according to CAWP figures, but not enough to change the picture dramatically. Dittmar has written that it’s only when women’s candidacies significantly outpace men’s that women will move closer to gender parity.
In a state like Texas, it has been hard for Democrats to win in recent years. Republicans have held a trifecta — the governor’s mansion and both chambers of the Legislature — since 2003. They have held both U.S. Senate seats for even longer.
Incumbents typically have better name recognition and bigger campaign war chests. That makes the equation even more challenging for women — many of whom are Democrats not already in that office — to win this election.