Ten years after an Arizona governor was impeached and barely a year after another governor was forced from office by a federal conviction – both of whom were men – the Grand Canyon State made political history.
Voters elected women to the five top offices in the state, a first for Arizona and, indeed, a first for the United States. There is nothing to indicate that Arizonans were reacting to the inglorious departures of Govs. Evan Mecham in 1988 and Fife Symington in 1997. It’s more likely voters saw the five women as quality individuals who would serve the state well.
Dubbed the “Fab Five” by the media, they numbered four Republicans and a Democrat. Adding to the feminine aura, the oath of office was administered to the newly-elected state officials on Jan. 4, 1999, by Arizona’s most famous female, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who made history herself by being the first woman appointed to the nation’s high court.
Heading the quintessential quintet was Gov. Jane Dee Hull, followed by Secretary of State Betsey Bayless, Attorney General Janet Napolitano, Treasurer Carol Springer and Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan. All were Republicans except Napolitano, the lone Democrat.
Hull, who taught elementary school in Kansas City, Kan., and in the Navajo Nation at Chinle, campaigned for Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential race, and formally entered politics in 1978 when she was elected to the Arizona House of Representatives. She represented a north-central Phoenix district for seven terms, including two as Arizona’s first female speaker of the House.
In 1991, while she was speaker, AzSCAM, a gambling sting scandal broke, resulting in the resignation or removal of ten members of the House and Senate. To improve the Legislature’s tarnished image, Hull instituted several ethics reforms.
Hull resigned from the Legislature in 1993 to successfully run for secretary of state in 1994. After Symington resigned because of a federal felony conviction, which was later overturned by the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals, Hull, first in line of succession, became governor on Sept. 5, 1997. She promptly appointed Bayless to fill the secretary of state vacancy, and in 1998 became part of the Fab Five when she was the first woman elected Arizona governor.
After leaving office, Hull served briefly as a public delegate from the United States to the United Nations General Assembly, and remains active in political and community affairs.
Bayless, a third generation Arizonan, was elected to a full four-year term as secretary of state in 1998, and like Hull served until Jan. 6, 2003. Prior to her appointment as secretary of state, Bayless was a member of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors where she served two, four-year terms, including a stint as board chair. As an appointee in Republican and Democratic administrations, she also served as director of the state Department of Administration, as acting director of the state Department of Revenue and as assistant director of the Arizona Board of Regents.
Since September 2005, Bayless has served as chief executive officer of the Maricopa Integrated Health System, a health care district approved by voters in 2003, which includes Maricopa Medical Center, a 450-bed major teaching hospital.
Napolitano first gained prominence in 1991, when as a partner with a Phoenix law firm she served as an attorney for Anita Hill, who had testified before a congressional committee that then-U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her 10 years earlier. In 1993, President Clinton appointed Napolitano as
U.S. attorney for the district of Arizona, and from there her political career took off.
She became the third member of the Fab Five, winning the race for Arizona attorney general in 1998. During her four-year term she focused primarily on consumer protection issues, and in 2002 ran for governor, narrowly winning a four-way contest with 46 percent of the vote. Four years later, Napolitano was easily re-elected. She tangled early and often with a Republican-controlled Legislature, setting a veto record of 180, far surpassing the previous record of 114 vetoes registered by another Democrat, Bruce Babbitt.
Napolitano served as chair of the National Governors Association in 2006-07, the first woman and first Arizona governor to hold that position. On Jan. 20, 2009, Napolitano resigned and was confirmed as secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, a position she still holds in Barack Obama’s administration.
The fourth member of the Fab Five, Springer served as state treasurer from January 1999 until January 2003. She ran in the 2002 Republican gubernatorial primary, but lost. In 2005, she was elected to the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors, a position she still holds.
Before her term as state treasurer, Springer, a longtime Prescott resident, served four two-year terms in the Arizona Senate, representing District 1.
Keegan, the fifth member of the Fab Five, had served one term as superintendent of public instruction when she was re-elected in 1998. She had previously served two terms in the state House of Representatives, from 1991 to 1995. Throughout her career, Keegan has advocated conservative approaches to education reform, including emphasis on standardized testing, school choice, charter schools, vouchers, tax credits and open enrollment.
She served as a senior policy adviser on education to Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign, and worked for such political figures as former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.
At the swearing-in ceremony for the Fab Five, Arizona’s longest-serving member of the Legislature, Edwynne “Polly” Rosenbaum, was a guest of honor. Coincidentally, that same year Brenda Burns was elected by her peers as president of the Arizona Senate.