Editorial: At long last, women finally have a real shot at California’s top job

Former state Controller Betty Yee speaks into a microphone
Former state Controller Betty Yee is one of three highly accomplished female politicians running for governor in 2026 — so far.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis was the first in the running. Then Sen. Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), the former president of the state Senate, joined in early this year. And now that former state Controller Betty Yee has thrown her hat into the 2026 gubernatorial race, it’s looking like a distinct possibility that California might get a woman in the state’s top job for the first time.

It has only been 175 years.

It’s perplexing that a state so famous for promoting gender equality hasn’t reach this milestone yet. And it’s downright embarrassing when you consider this particular glass ceiling was shattered nearly 100 years ago by the voters in the wilds of Wyoming.


A state that fancies itself a progressive path-breaker and bastion of open-minded opportunity has never elected a woman to Sacramento’s top job. That male hegemony could finally end in 2026.

March 20, 2024

In fact, more than 60% of states have elected a woman to be governor, including some of the most conservative, such as Alabama and Texas. Arizona has had five — five!female governors.

It’s hard to say why California has lagged in this regard, especially as plenty of women have been elected statewide, including the current vice president who previously served as both state attorney general and U.S. senator. But for whatever reason, California has had few viable female candidates run for governor. (There are many who have appeared on the ballot, however. Every election dozens of people file papers to run for governor, Senate and other top jobs with no hope of actually winning.)

Only a few women have come close in recent memory: Democrat Dianne Feinstein lost to Republican Pete Wilson in 1990 but went on to become a long-serving U.S. senator. Then-state Treasurer Kathleen Brown made it to the runoff for governor in 1994 against Wilson. Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman had a real shot in 2010 against Jerry Brown — until it became clear that she didn’t know the issues.

Any regional advantage has apparently been wiped away by the nationalization of politics, the everywhere reach of social media and, especially, the star-making capacity of TV news.

March 14, 2024

Things are markedly different for the 2026 race already. Of the four prominent Democrats who have announced their intention to run for governor, only one is a man — state Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond. So far, the odds are pretty good for the women. And they could get better, because there are several high-profile female political leaders who could easily join the race.

U.S. Sen. Laphonza Butler, for one. She was appointed to the Senate seat after Feinstein died last year, but the race for the next term was already underway and Butler chose not to jump in. This means she will be free in January. Then there’s Vice President Kamala Harris. Should Donald Trump win the presidential race in November — a possibility we fervently hope does not come true — Harris would be out of a job in 2025. Though it’s possible she might save her energy for a presidential run in 2028.

And there are any number of politically minded celebrities who would become instant front-runners if they jumped into the governor’s race, no matter their party designation. Any member of the Jenner-Kardashian family, for example — with the exception of Caitlyn Jenner, whose gubernatorial campaign in the 2021 recall election was a massive dud.


Of course, things can change a lot before the race really gets going next year. And the most important attribute of the next governor shouldn’t be gender, but rather his or her policies, character, experience and vision. But it would be nice if, for once, it’s less of a long shot and more of a probability that one of the women might be that best candidate.