• The Ascend Fund

It’s Past Time to Elect Black Women to Governor Offices


This year poses a unique opportunity to achieve a long-overdue first, electing the first Black woman governor in the United States. In November there will be 36 governorships on the ballot, including all of the nine offices currently held by women.


As we’ve explored in a previous column, governor offices represent a persistent challenge for women, particularly women of color – of the 2,565 people that have served as governor, just 45 have been women and only three have been women of color.[1]


A record number of Black women are expected to run for governor this year, an important milestone on the path to a more reflective democracy. This Black History Month, we celebrate the women poised to make history and the organizations working to make it happen.


Severe Underrepresentation in Statewide Executive Offices


While Black women are underrepresented at all levels of elected office, Black women are the most underrepresented in statewide executive offices. While Black women make up 7.8% of the population, they make up less than 2% of statewide executive officeholders (governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, and attorney general) and currently just eight Black women serve in these roles.[2] Until 2018, when Stacey Abrams won the Democratic nomination in Georgia, no Black woman had ever won a major party nomination for governor.


The Opportunity – Black Women Running for Governor in 2022


This year presents a long-awaited opportunity to elect the first Black women governors – as a slew of exceptional women have announced their candidacies.

To ensure more Black women run not just for governor in 2022 but for all offices and in future years, our partner Higher Heights Leadership Fund is committed to strengthening the leadership of Black women and is investing in a long-term strategy to propel Black women to political leadership. Speaking about the future of Black women candidates, Higher Heights President and Co-Founder Glynda Carr said:


“We’ve shown proof of concept about the viability of Black women as candidates in a growing diversity of places where Black women are running, winning and leading. Black women are stepping off the sidelines and getting into increasingly competitive races. This is a roadmap for the possibilities that exist.”[3]

While Higher Heights is one of the best-known organizations working to elect Black women, others like our partner Mothering Justice are working on the state and local level. In January 2022, Mothering Justice launched Black Womxn Win Michigan, an initiative dedicated to transforming the face of political leadership in Michigan by electing the first Black woman governor, U.S. senator, and mayor of Detroit by 2031.


The Barriers to Equal Representation – Gatekeepers and Funding


While we celebrate the incredible women running this year, we must also recognize the barriers that have historically hindered Black women’s political representation.


The under-representation of Black women in statewide offices is a direct result of the historical and persistent racism and sexism that has been systemic in our political processes. These systemic issues are often compounded by gatekeepers at all levels, including major donors and party leaders who have excluded Black women and inhibited their political aspirations.


Political fundraising remains a key measure for success and political viability, but Black women face harsh challenges while fundraising. Black Democratic women receive less funding from individual donors than any other demographic of candidate – large individual donors give white women three times as much funding as they give Black women, Indigenous women, and other women of color.[4] This is magnified by the fact that Black women receive less funding from early donors, which is crucial in establishing the viability of a campaign.[5] To build a more equitable political system, donors must invest early and heavily in Black women’s campaigns.


Political donors are not the only barrier to Black women’s political success. Political party leaders have often supported candidates who were considered “electable,” (namely, white men) over Black women, Indigenous women, and other women of color. Without the support of a political party, it can be immensely challenging for candidates to run for office successfully. In 2018, 71 Black women ran for Congress as Democrats, but only three were supported by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), all of which won their races.[6] While gatekeepers pose a significant challenge, the reality is that Black women are electable and win their elections at the same rate as white men.


Importance of a Truly Reflective Democracy


Electing Black women and correcting this historic political underrepresentation is not only what’s right, it’s also what’s good for our democracy.


When elected, Black women lead and legislate based on their lived experience, contributing crucial perspectives to our representative government. With just nine women governors (currently) and no Black women governors (ever), those perspectives are desperately needed in our government. As Carr said, this lack of representation is a pervasive problem in our political system for all Americans:


“The historical absence of Black women on the gubernatorial level is a problematic representational void for the nearly 23 million Black women and girls in the U.S., and the almost exclusively white, overwhelmingly male gubernatorial leadership is detrimental to the country as a whole.”

In addition, Black women are on the frontlines of our democracy and leading the fights in legislative bodies and grassroots movements for issues that are otherwise largely deprioritized by leaders who are less impacted by them, such as maternal mortality and voting rights. Speaking about this crucial aspect of Black women’s leadership, Christina Greer, a political scientist at Fordham University, said:


“As the political canaries in the mine, Black women are the ones who see and experience the danger first.”[7]

Conclusion


As we celebrate Black History Month, it’s important to look not just backwards but also forward. This year we have the chance to make history and elect the first Black woman governor, but we also must continue to elevate and normalize Black women’s leadership. As Congresswoman Cori Bush said following her election in 2020, it is far past the time to achieve these firsts.


“Shirley Chisholm became the first Black woman elected to Congress 52 years ago. Today, I became the first Black woman elected to represent Missouri in Congress. It’s 2020. I shouldn’t be the first, but I am honored to carry this responsibility.”[8]

We are proud to support organizations like Higher Heights Leadership Fund, Mothering Justice, Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable, Puget Sound Sage, and others who are strengthening the political leadership of Black women. We encourage you to join us in supporting these organizations and to learn more about our work to build a pathway to public office for women, particularly women who have historically been excluded from elected office.


[1] Center for American Women and Politics – History of Women Governors [2] Center for American Women and Politics - Women in Statewide Elective Executive Office 2022 [3] The 19th News – A Record Number of Black Women are Expected to Run in 2022 [4] Open Secrets - Which Women Can Run? The Fundraising Gap in the 2020 Elections' Competitive Primaries [5] The 19th News – A Record Number of Black Women are Expected to Run in 2022 [6] Boston University Law Review - Life For Me Ain’t Been No Crystal Stair”: Black Women Candidates And The Democratic Party [7] The 19th News – A Record Number of Black Women are Expected to Run in 2022 [8] WHOI TV – Missouri Voters Elect Cori Bush, first Black woman to Congress