Your cheat sheet on the nation’s 9 governors-in-waiting

Meet America’s new class of governors — a diverse group of political newcomers and seasoned politicians who flipped party control, broke centuries-old barriers and helped deliver a record 12 female state executives nationwide.

They’re historic firsts in their states and in the nation. They flipped governor’s offices blue in Arizona, Maryland and Massachusetts. And in Nevada, Republican Joe Lombardo’s upset win over Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak will reshape the balance of power in a key battleground state where Democrats run the statehouse.

The nine newcomers will join a group of governors who are seeing their power and prominence expand on public health, jobs, abortion and gun rights as the economy teeters on the brink of a recession.

Here’s the lineup of new governors taking office next year:

Nebraska — Jim Pillen

Nebraska hog farmer and university regent Jim Pillen didn’t debate his rivals during his bid to move into the governor’s mansion in Lincoln. He also didn’t win an endorsement from the Omaha World-Herald’s historically conservative editorial board — or former President Donald Trump.

But the Republican and Cornhusker football hall-of-famer still won nearly 60 percent of the vote in an agricultural stronghold where voters outside the state’s two largest cities heavily backed Trump in 2020.

“I’m the first governor in the state of Nebraska that made his living exclusively from agriculture in 100 years,” Pillen said in an interview. “Today, more than ever, food security and energy independence through ethanol and renewable fuels is a big, big deal. As I like to say: We in Nebraska agriculture feed the world and we save the planet doing it.”

Pillen will be tested on both politics and policy. Populist Republicans gained control of the party’s apparatus this summer, though conservatives may fall short in their attempts to grab a filibuster-proof majority in the state’s unicameral legislature. Pillen’s campaign rhetoric has suggested he backs stricter state limits on abortion. He also plans to overhaul the state’s education funding formula after he unsuccessfully sought to persuade the University of Nebraska’s Board of Regents last year to oppose critical race theory, an academic concept that explores how race and racism have become ingrained in American institutions.

And Pillen has one agenda item with significant implications for Capitol Hill: He must appoint a replacement for retiring Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, who said he will leave the chamber in early January to serve as the University of Florida’s president. The one clear-cut candidate to replace him is Pete Ricketts. The term-limited Republican governor was one of Pillen’s most prominent — and deep-pocketed — supporters and said he would allow his successor to appoint Sasse’s replacement weeks before Pillen won office.

“I’m not a believer in placeholders,” Pillen said of the forthcoming appointment. “I’m a believer that we need to get the best person possible, and I’m a believer that whoever that person is has to be able to win reelection. Being in a seat, wherever it is, for two years just does not make sense.”

— Juan Perez Jr.

Arizona — Katie Hobbs

Katie Hobbs delivered a massive win for Democrats when she was projected the winner of Arizona’s gubernatorial race, defeating a Trump acolyte in a closely watched battleground-state race and breaking the state government trifecta Republicans have held since 2009.

“Democracy is worth the wait,” the governor-elect wrote on Twitter after the race was called in her favor on Monday following six days of ballot-counting. She’ll succeed term-limited GOP Gov. Doug Ducey, making her one of three Democrats to flip a governor’s seat this cycle.

Hobbs, who as secretary of state stood steadfast against Trump and his allies’ claims that the 2020 election was stolen, defeated one of the GOP’s most prominent election deniers in former local TV news anchor Kari Lake. Hobbs had drawn criticism and concern from some in her own party for declining to debate Lake, saying she didn’t want to give her rival more of a platform in a race she described as “sanity versus chaos.” Lake has yet to concede.

A former social worker, Hobbs served in the state House and Senate before being narrowly elected secretary of state in 2018.

She campaigned for governor on repealing Arizona’s pre-Roe v. Wade ban on most abortions, raising teacher salaries and implementing an annual child tax credit. But the Democrat will face an uphill battle in passing her priorities through a Republican-led Legislature even as she gains veto power over them.

Lisa Kashinsky

Arkansas — Sarah Huckabee Sanders

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, former press secretary for President Donald Trump, will be the state’s first female governor after running a campaign that shattered fundraising records. The Republican earned Trump’s endorsement soon after declaring her candidacy and consistently led in polling by double digits before ultimately receiving nearly two-thirds of the vote.

Sanders, the daughter of longtime former Arkansas governor and political commentator Mike Huckabee, had a combative relationship with the press during the Trump administration, frequently sparring with reporters and canceling press briefings. She carried that attitude toward the media into her gubernatorial run in her home state, rarely speaking to local press, which she was criticized over by her Democratic opponent, Chris Jones.

Throughout the campaign, Sanders promised an early order of business will be eliminating the state income tax. The Republican-controlled Legislature and term-limited Gov. Asa Hutchinson had already begun to lay the groundwork for phasing out income taxes by reducing the amount residents would have to pay earlier this year.

Sanders also said one of her goals will be improving literacy rates among Arkansas schoolchildren. Students’ scores in math and reading consistently fall below national averages and a recent national study shows that the pandemic exacerbated those low figures.

The Legislature is expected to continue to lead on conservative issues in the upcoming legislative session, with Sanders’ support. Arkansas was the first state in 2021 to ban transgender children from receiving gender-affirming medical care, a bill Hutchinson initially vetoed but was overridden by lawmakers. Sanders said she would have signed the measure.

— Liz Crampton

Massachusetts — Maura Healey

Maura Healey just became the first woman and first openly gay person elected governor of Massachusetts. Come January, she’ll be one of the first two openly lesbian governors in the country, and part of one of the first two all-female governor and lieutenant governor teams in the nation’s history. She’ll also deliver Democrats trifecta control of state government in this deep-blue state for just the second time in three decades.

That was the easy part.

A two-term state attorney general who burnished her profile by repeatedly suing the Trump administration and taking on pharmaceutical companies over the opioid epidemic, Healey, 51, will soon face a new set of challenges. She’s already been tasked with finding a new leader for the greater Boston area’s beleaguered public transportation system and fixing the safety problems laid bare in a scathing federal review. And the Democrat has pledged to press ahead with changes to the tax code — likely a mix of credits she’s proposed for children and other dependents and other adjustments put forward by outgoing GOP Gov. Charlie Baker — on her first day in office.

She’ll also have to navigate the perks and perils of one-party rule. Healey and moderate Democratic legislative leaders will face pressure from progressives to make progress on reducing transit fares and bringing back long-banned local-option rent control, among other goals. Her working relationship with Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, a progressive Democrat and rising star in the party, will also be closely watched.

“People have given us a mandate, not just to act but to deliver results,” Healey, who trounced her Trump-backed opponent by nearly 30 points, told reporters after a post-victory meeting with Baker. “This is a really serious endeavor.”

Lisa Kashinsky

Maryland — Wes Moore

Wes Moore is being positioned as a star-in-waiting for the Democratic Party.

When he’s sworn in early next year, he’ll be the nation’s only Black governor and just the third ever elected in the 246-year history of the United States. Moore cruised to victory last week in his first time running for public office, vanquishing his Trump-backed opponent by nearly 30 percentage points.

“The results are still rolling in tonight,” Moore said during his victory speech election night, when the only unanswered question was about how large his margin of victory would be. “But it’s clear we have a mandate for our vision of a healthier, wealthier Maryland.”

Moore, best-selling author and combat veteran of the Afghanistan War whose campaign slogan was “Leave No One Behind,” amassed a who’s who of endorsements from Democratic luminaries. This includes President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, former President Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey — all of whom stumped with or cut ads for the first-time candidate already being discussed as a potential White House contender.

With Moore, a political moderate, Democrats will enjoy a governing trifecta, controlling both the governor’s mansion and both chambers of the state legislature. The governor-elect also inherits a $2 billion budget surplus from term-limited Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican who he met with last week.

Moore has said his plans for job retraining programs, improving educational outcomes for high schoolers and other methods for making Maryland more equitable will rely on making more strategic choices.

“It’s not about raising taxes,” Moore said in an appearance on Fox News Sunday, adding “the capital is out there. We need to be smarter about how we’re applying it.”

Among the immediate challenges the Moore administration will have to tackle is filling a large number of vacancies across several key government agencies and managing the implementation of the state’s recreational marijana program next year.

— Brakkton Brooker

Nevada — Joe Lombardo

The 2022 election cycle was a fairly disappointing one for Republican governors. While no incumbent governor lost, Republicans largely failed to make any inroads either, with most Democratic incumbents winning and the party holding their open seats.

The lone exception to that rule: Nevada’s Joe Lombardo.

Lombardo, the sheriff of the state’s most populous county, defeated incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, becoming the only Republican gubernatorial hopeful to flip a seat this cycle. Lombardo was a prized recruit for national Republicans, in part because of his previous electoral success: He is the soon-to-be-former sheriff of Clark County, which typically leans heavily Democratic and is central to any statewide elections there.

It is a return to form for the Silver State — Sisolak’s one-term administration marked the only time a Democrat served as the state’s chief executive this millennium. But, to get things done, Lombardo will have to work with Democrats, who retained control of both chambers of the state legislature but did not win a veto-proof supermajority.

Lombardo centered his campaign around his law enforcement background, along with education and rebuilding a state’s economy, which was hit particularly hard by a one-two punch of the pandemic and inflation. In his victory speech on Monday, he pledged to expand school choice in the state, reform the state’s government agencies and eliminate “soft on crime laws.”

“Now that the election is over, we must set aside our differences and come together as Nevadans, to work toward a common goal of building a strong economy and a healthier and safer Nevada,” he said on Monday, pledging to work with Sisolak to ensure a smooth transition.

— Zach Montellaro

Oregon — Tina Kotek

Portland progressive Tina Kotek is known for her hard-nosed negotiating style after nine years as speaker of the Oregon House. And she’ll be one of the country’s first two openly gay women serving as governor when she and Healey in Massachusetts are sworn into office this winter.

Kotek was also the nation’s first out statehouse speaker, a milestone she notched after six years in the Legislature. Her campaign website boasts that, in graduate school at the University of Washington, she secured domestic partnership rights for students and faculty.

Her resume before politics includes work for the Oregon Food Bank and for the nonprofit advocacy group Children First for Oregon. She has been especially vocal on homelessness policy, which polling shows is the most important issue to Oregonians.

The University of Oregon graduate brings an exacting leadership style and little fear of agitating Democratic colleagues to the office. And while her allies revere her leadership and penchant for pushing through compromises, tensions have at times boiled over: A member of Kotek’s caucus reportedly emerged from talks over a bill curtailing public pensions in tears.

Kotek’s toughness, touted in her own campaign ads, may have helped her survive the most formidable challenge to Oregon Democrats’ gubernatorial win streak in a generation. Former Oregon House Minority Leader Mike McLane, a Republican who is reportedly in the same prayer group as Kotek, described her character another way to a Portland alt weekly.

“If you’re in her way,” McLane told the Wilamette Week, “you are going to be roadkill.”

— Blake Jones

Pennsylvania — Josh Shapiro

Pennsylvania is supposed to be a swing state. But Democratic state Attorney General Josh Shapiro won by a commanding margin anyway.

The 49-year-old attorney general beat his Republican opponent, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, last week, setting himself up to succeed the term-limited Gov. Tom Wolf and holding the open seat for Democrats.

Shapiro won by over 14 points, the biggest margin of victory for a statewide Democrat in the Keystone State this year. It is the third cycle that Shapio has won the most votes out of anyone on the ballot there: 2016, 2020 and 2022.

Shapiro centered his Jewish faith in his campaign to defeat Mastriano, a Christian nationalist with ties to antisemites who was one of the leading election deniers in the country.

“It made me more determined to beat this guy, but not for the reasons that I think you think,” Shapiro said in an interview with POLITICO in September. “I didn’t look at it as an American Jew and feel offended personally. I looked at it as an attorney general who wants to be governor, thinking, ‘This guy can’t lead our commonwealth if he thinks certain people shouldn’t exist here, if he thinks certain people don’t deserve representation.’ So it pissed me off on behalf of the people that I’m trying to represent.”

Shapiro’s victory continues years of divided government in Pennsylvania, where Republicans have held the Legislature. The battle for the state House remains too close to call, while Republicans retained control of the state Senate. His win also means he will appoint the commonwealth’s chief election official for the 2024 election — a major priority for his vanquished opponent, an ally of Trump who regularly spread lies about the security of the election.

— Zach Montellaro

Hawaii — Josh Green

Lt. Gov. Josh Green, a Democrat, swept the governor’s race with two-thirds of the vote, reinforcing the tight grip his party holds over statewide politics. Before becoming term-limited Gov. David Ige’s No. 2, Green served in the state Legislature. He’s an emergency room doctor who has worked in rural areas and continued practicing medicine part-time while in office.

Green, 52, made housing affordability and homelessness central to his campaign, two issues he worked on as lieutenant governor. Median home prices skyrocketed during the pandemic, further squeezing residents in a state already dealing with the nation’s highest cost-of- living.

Green has championed “tiny home villages” — permanent housing communities for people who are chronically homeless. Financed in partnership with builders and donors, the first of the developments went up in 2019 to house military veterans and was created by transferring unused land to the state housing authority. He’s promised to expand that program, as well as “Ohana zones” — converted properties that provide shelter and services like medical care.

Green also supports a contentious tourism proposal that’s been kicking around Hawaii politics for a long time: impose a $50 fee on every out-of-state visitor over age 12. That charge, which Green has dubbed a “climate impact fee,” would supposedly generate more than $350 million for reducing environmental damage caused by tourism, such as the degradation of native wildlife. But Green faces a tough showdown with the state legislature.

Liz Crampton


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