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  •   The New Governors

    Thursday, November 5, 1998; Page A41

    Thirteen new governors were elected in Tuesday's races -- five Democrats, seven Republicans and Reform Party candidate Jesse Ventura. There now will be 31 GOP governors (a loss of one), 17 Democratic governors and two others.

    ALABAMA

    In the Alabama gubernatorial race, Lt. Gov. Don Siegelman, a Democrat, ousted Republican incumbent Fob James Jr. in what many viewed as a battle for the future of a socially conservative state. Siegelman, 52, ran a strong campaign that focused on economic development and improvements in education, including a lottery to fund college scholarships and a pre-kindergarten program for 4-year-olds. James, 64, a favorite of the religious right, was well-known for his advocacy of school prayer.

    A former Alabama secretary of state, Siegelman also served as state attorney general, winning passage of some of the nation's toughest laws against drunken driving.

    Siegelman, a graduate of the University of Alabama and Georgetown University Law School, led in fund-raising and the polls as the campaign wound down. The Montgomery resident and father of two concentrated largely on his proposed Alabama Lottery for Education Initiative.

    CALIFORNIA

    Gray Davis, 55, will be the first Democratic governor of the nation's most populous and most diverse state in more than 16 years. He has been a fixture in Sacramento since the mid-1970s, when he served as chief of staff to Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr., the last Democratic governor of California.

    Davis has been the state's lieutenant governor since 1994. He is a career politician who has steadily climbed the ranks of elected office in the state. He has represented Beverly Hills and other parts of West Los Angeles in the California Assembly, and he has served two terms as the state controller.

    Even allies of Davis, who received a Bronze Star in the Vietnam War, call him a bland, cautious public official who usually avoids divisive issues. Until this year, he still had low name recognition in the state.

    But in his campaign against Dan Lungren, California's Republican attorney general, Davis stressed the need to improve the state's public schools, an issue of top concern to the state's 16 million voters.

    COLORADO

    Colorado's first Republican governor in a quarter century, Bill Owens, 48, reflects a state undergoing rapid growth and becoming more Republican. He is originally from Texas; he is tightfisted with the public's money; his answer to growth is more roads; and he is a social conservative.

    Raised in a Democratic family in Fort Worth, Owens early on demonstrated a passion for finance and Republican politics. As an adolescent, he took an investment course and chaired the Young Republican club in middle school. He has worked as an accountant, served as a state legislator -- working at the same time as an oil and gas lobbyist -- and Colorado state treasurer.

    Owens's election as governor is likely to encourage Colorado's socially conservative legislature to push limitations on abortion, gay rights and affirmative action. Owens has said he would sign legislation banning same-sex marriages, is staunchly antiabortion and opposes "special privileges based on race or sex."

    FLORIDA

    John Ellis "Jeb" Bush, a Republican making his contribution to the family dynasty, easily won the governorship in Florida over Democratic Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay. The son of former president George Bush, he also is the younger brother of Gov. George W. Bush of Texas, another Republican who handily won his own reelection campaign. Not since the Rockefeller brothers in the 1960s -- Winthrop in Arkansas, Nelson in New York -- have two brothers served simultaneously as governors.

    The second time was the charm for Jeb Bush, 45, who narrowly lost in 1994 to Gov. Lawton Chiles. This go-round, he ran a skillful, well-financed campaign that sidestepped criticism of his business career and political experience.

    Bush, the father of three, came to Florida 18 years ago, starting a commercial real estate development company, the Codina Group, based in Miami, with three employees. Today, it is billed as the largest firm of its kind in South Florida, employing more than 200 people.

    GEORGIA

    Roy E. Barnes, a veteran Democratic state legislator, thwarted Republican businessman Guy Millner's bid to become the first GOP governor in Georgia since Reconstruction. Barnes, 50, a moderate Democrat, was compared favorably to the popular current governor, Zell Miller, a Democrat credited with the state's recent surge in development and job growth.

    A native of Mableton, Ga., Barnes said he developed a fascination with politics as a child, eavesdropping on political discussions at the family's general store. Two years out of the University of Georgia Law School, he was elected to the first of eight terms in the state Senate.

    In the 1990 gubernatorial primary, Barnes lost to Miller, then returned to the statehouse in 1993. In a hard-fought and expensive campaign against Millner, Barnes accused his opponent of trying to use race as a divisive note.

    The father of three, Barnes is a senior partner in a Marietta law firm.

    IDAHO

    Idaho's next governor, Republican Dirk Kempthorne, 47, is a familiar figure in the state capital. He served as mayor of Boise from 1986 to 1993 and managed the gubernatorial campaign of his predecessor, retiring Gov. Phil Batt, when Batt first ran unsuccessfully in 1982. Six years ago, Kempthorne won a U.S. Senate seat and is home after just one term.

    In the Senate, Kempthorne earned a reputation as an Idaho conservative who could work with Democrats across the aisle. He was the prime mover behind a compromise attempt to overhaul the Endangered Species Act, which was not successful, and influential on the 1986 Safe Drinking Act, which was passed into law. In deference to Idaho farmers, he has opposed trade agreements such as NAFTA.

    A talent for bipartisanship may be wasted in Boise, where the Idaho legislature is among the most Republican and conservative in the nation.

    ILLINOIS

    Secretary of State George Ryan delivered a seventh straight gubernatorial victory to the GOP in Illinois, defeating Rep. Glenn Poshard in a race where the Democratic candidate was portrayed as more conservative than the moderate Republican.

    Ryan, 64, is a former pharmacist who supports gun control and spent the campaign reminding voters that Poshard opposes some gun control measures and abortion. Ryan also gained the support of some gay voters, who were unhappy with Poshard's stance on gay rights and same-sex marriage.

    Ryan, from Kankakee, used his formidable campaign chest for ads portraying himself as a kindly grandfather. But his campaign was tainted in early fall after a handful of workers in the secretary of state's office were arrested and accused of taking bribes in exchange for commercial driver's licenses, then turning the money over to Ryan's campaign. Ryan was not tied to the scandal.

    IOWA

    Three decades of Republicans in the Iowa governor's mansion ended with the upset victory of state Sen. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat who defeated former congressman Jim Ross Lightfoot for the job being vacated by Republican Terry E. Branstad.

    Vilsack, 47, was elected to the state Senate in 1992, where he focused on education, expanding health coverage and property tax relief. The backing of organized labor helped him win a narrow victory in a difficult Democratic primary, but that left him short of money for the general campaign, a problem he overcame in part by walking through nearly 100 Iowa communities.

    Vilsack, who is married with two children, talks about overcoming a troubled childhood with an alcoholic mother who adopted him from a Catholic orphanage. That may explain his reputation as hard-working and serious, a label that prompted a political colleague to give him a book of political jokes in hopes of helping him through the campaign.

    MINNESOTA

    He picked up his name from a California road map and his strongest support from young men who said they ordinarily wouldn't have voted, but Jesse "The Body" Ventura defeated two professional politicians -- Mayor Norm Coleman of St. Paul and the state attorney general, Hubert H. "Skip" Humphrey III -- to become the new governor of Minnesota.

    Ventura, 47, a former professional wrestler, two-tour Vietnam War veteran, actor and radio talk show host, won with a combination populist, anti-government, libertarian appeal. He was born James Janos in Minneapolis and graduated from the city's public schools. He did not attend college, but became a Navy SEAL before embarking on an 11-year career as a professional wrestler.

    From 1991 to 1994, he was mayor of Brooklyn Park, a Minneapolis suburb of 65,000 that has a weak mayor system of administration with a city manager. He lives in a large home overlooking the Mississippi River and his two children attend public school.

    NEBRASKA

    Nebraska's governor-elect, Republican Mike Johanns, 47, campaigned on themes of less government and lower taxes while touting his accomplishments as mayor of Lincoln, the state capital.

    Johanns, who will succeed retiring Gov. Ben Nelson, a Democrat, was himself a Democrat and a Lancaster County commissioner in the early 1980s before switching parties, saying his conservative views were more in line with GOP principles.

    He has promised to reduce state spending on welfare and increase funding for the Nebraska State Patrol. Although he initially supported a ballot initiative that would have constitutionally limited state taxes and spending, he changed his mind after his GOP primary victory and opposed Proposition 401. The initiative was defeated.

    Johanns, a lawyer, is married to Stephanie Armitage, whom he met while both on the Lancaster commission.

    NEVADA

    Kenny Guinn, the new Republican governor of Nevada, has extensive experience in business, banking and school administration, but little in partisan politics. He was the designated choice of the GOP and Nevada's business establishment -- dominated by the gaming industry, as gambling is called here -- to succeed Gov. Bob Miller, a Democrat who was barred from seeking a third term.

    Guinn, 62, served nine years as superintendent of schools in Clark County, which corresponds to metropolitan Las Vegas, and subsequently as president of a local bank and gas company. Although plodding and inarticulate as a campaigner, he was praised by those who have worked with him in business and the school system for his grasp of fiscal issues and a willingness to compromise.

    Guinn, who promised to make state government more accountable, is considered a moderate. He has been married to his wife Dema for 42 years; they have two sons and four grandchildren.

    OHIO

    His great-grandfather was the nation's 27th president, his grandfather earned the name "Mr. Republican" and his father served in the Senate, but Robert A. Taft II became the first member of his family to be elected governor of Ohio.

    Taft, 56, succeeds George V. Voinovich, who was elected to the Senate. Taft has served as Ohio secretary of state since 1990, after earlier being elected to the state legislature and serving as a county commissioner in Hamilton County, which includes Cincinnati. He is a graduate of Yale and Princeton universities and holds a law degree from the University of Cincinnati. He served in the Peace Corps in Tanzania and worked as the assistant director of the Illinois Bureau of the Budget.

    Taft campaigned on improving education and health care and cutting crime. He branded a tax cut proposed by his Democratic opponent, former state attorney general Lee Fisher, a "risky scheme."

    SOUTH CAROLINA

    Democratic challenger James H. "Jim" Hodges rode the public education issue to a surprising victory in this previously Republican-held state, toppling the Republican incumbent, David M. Beasley, in a colorful race.

    Hodges, 41, the former leader of the South Carolina House, favored a lottery to fund scholarships and other education improvements in a state that ranks last or near-last in SAT scores, high school graduates and other indicators.

    Hodges grew up in Lancaster County, S.C., where he followed the family tradition of working in the cotton mills as a young man. A year after graduating from the University of South Carolina Law School, he was appointed county attorney in Lancaster County. Beginning in 1986, he served 10 years in the state legislature, where he was regarded as a moderate, focusing on environmental issues, education and small-business growth.

    Hodges is married to Rachel Gardner Hodges and has two sons, 4 and 2.


    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post

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