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Arizona voters create first all-female political lineup

Conservative state breaks stereotype, makes history with 'Fabulous Five.'

Arizona politics is nothing if not surprising.

In the last decade, the state government has endured more plot twists than a suspense thriller, beginning in 1988 with the impeachment of one governor, and ending with the resignation of another following a felony conviction on seven counts of fraud last year.

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But nothing was more surprising to national political observers than the quiet way women swept into office in November, capturing the state's top five spots and creating the first all-female line of succession in US history.

Gov. Jane Hull, Secretary of State Betsey Bayless, Treasurer Carol Springer, Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan, and Attorney General Janet Napolitano have been called the "Fabulous Five," and their coup has been ballyhooed in national media. But here in Arizona, the event passed with little fanfare, least of all from the women who are set to take office in January.

"It wasn't a surprise here," says the reelected Governor Hull, who took over the state's top post when Gov. Fife Symington resigned in September 1997.

Like most of the women who were elected, Hull has been part of Arizona politics for a long time. She spent 14 years in the Arizona House of Representatives, where she served one term as majority whip and two terms as Speaker, the first woman to hold that position. She was serving as secretary of state when a federal jury convicted Governor Symington of bank fraud in connection with his real-estate business.

A report issued by the Center for Women in Government found that Arizona government included more women legislators, department heads, and top advisers than both the region and the country. Among them are Arizona Supreme Court Justice Ruth McGregor, whom Hull appointed earlier this year, and Senate President Brenda Burns.

Contrary to popular belief, Hull points out, women have a long history in Arizona government, serving in the legislature almost from the state's inception.

While not included in the Arizona constitution, women's suffrage was the state's first legislative initiative in 1912, passing in every county. In 1914, Arizona voters sent their first two women legislators to state office.

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Another political pioneer is Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman appointed to the US Supreme Court. Justice O'Connor was elected to the Arizona Senate in 1969 and reelected for two additional terms. She served as Senate majority leader in 1972.

But political observers here say November's election was not so much about gender as it was about party affiliation. Since the late 1960s, Arizona has been dominated by Republicans, including four of the Fabulous Five. The exception is Ms. Napolitano, who is a Democrat.

"There's nothing in the water here to really explain it," says political pollster Bruce Merrill from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University in Tempe. "It was kind of a fluke."

Mr. Merrill notes there was not one percentage point difference between the way men and women voted. He adds that each woman won because of the circumstances surrounding her race.

Ms. Graham Keegan and Ms. Springer ran uncontested in the general election, Merrill says, and Hull and Ms. Bayless were incumbents. They benefited from a good economy, which favors both incumbents and the ruling party, and low voter turnout, which historically brings more Republicans than Democrats to the polls.

IN THE race for attorney general, Napolitano benefited from a contentious Republican primary, which drained her opponent's coffers early while she had plenty of money to air television ads, Merrill says. However, her lead eroded quickly when opponent, Tom McGovern, began airing his own ads.

The day after the election, the race was still too close to call. When the dust cleared, it was the state's early voting program that saved Napolitano, with early ballots accounting for 2 of every 3 votes she received.

Observers note that the women elected in November are very different in both style and substance, representing the full range of thought on public policy, from liberal to conservative.

"We don't govern one way," Graham Keegan says. "We agree and disagree with each other across the political spectrum." But while she admits she was pleased with the election results, Graham Keegan was most pleased with how little attention was given to the gender issue until the election was over. "It really wasn't about voting for women. It just happened that these women ran for office and won."

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