Only in Arizona: After string of political scandals 20-plus years ago, a group of accomplished women held state’s highest public offices
Nearly 90 years after women were allowed to vote in Arizona, another barrier blew to bits.
Starting in September 1997 and continuing with the 1998 November elections, five female political figures would secure their respective state seats and simultaneously hold the highest public offices in Arizona – all at the same time. It was a feat never before accomplished, or since.
The quintet of leaders, Gov. Jane Dee Hull, Secretary of State Betsey Bayless, state Attorney General Janet Napolitano, Treasurer Carol Springer and Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan, became an overnight national sensation and made public appearances as Arizona’s “Fab Five.”
“It was really a fascinating time certainly for me and the other four women involved,” Betsey Bayless, a third-generation Arizonan and long-time public figure, recalls. “We were on the ‘Today’ show, in People magazine, Time magazine. Little girls, in particular, paid a lot of attention, and I think it was a good lesson.”
Scandals boot men from office
State voters and state law ushered in the Fab Five on the heels of several political scandals that led to the 1988 impeachment of then-Gov. Evan Mecham and the 1997 fraud conviction of Fife Symington, Arizona’s sitting governor.
Hull, the secretary of state under Symington, was sworn into the governorship in September 1997 by the most famous among Arizona women — U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor — after Symington was forced to resign. She appointed Bayless to Secretary of State. Hull and Bayless would reclaim their offices outright a year later during the November 1998 election, along with wins from the rest of the Fab Five.
“You had five women that were very qualified (with) past experience in elected office and they were ready for the job. (We) didn’t just come out of nowhere,” says Bayless, who is now president emeritus for the Maricopa Integrated Health System. “I didn’t anticipate that it was going to happen or anyone else.”
“Did it drive change outside of Arizona? I think it made a great impact on people all over the country,” she says.
What they’re doing now
Napolitano later would become Arizona’s 21st governor, succeeding Hull, who was limited to two terms by state law. Napolitano served as the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security under President Obama, and now leads the renowned University of California System of universities, national labs and medical centers.
Graham-Keegan remains active in the Republican Party and an advocate for education reform, while Springer completed two terms in 2004 and 2008 as Yavapai County supervisor before deciding not to run again.
“It was a time of good government,” Bayless says. “There were not a lot of ruffles; everyone did a good job.”
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