Column One:
Eye on Unmarried America

November 14, 2005  



Single governors are rare despite one recent victory

by Thomas F. Coleman

With an election victory now in hand, Jon Corzine is New Jersey's governor-elect.  He is also unmarried.

When Corzine is sworn into office in January, he will join the unofficial "single governor's club" -- a very small number of chief executives who lack a "first lady" or "first man" as a spouse.

The number of unmarried politicians who have served as a state governor is so small that until just a few years ago it would not have been possible for them to have formed a single governor's caucus. 

It's quite evident that "marital status" is a matter of pride for married governors.  Just check out their websites and campaign literature and you will find their spouses on display in a prominent way. 

But unmarried governors tend to have a knack for camouflaging their single status and  deflecting attention away from their personal lives so that voters won't notice they are single.

If a poll were taken today asking Americans to name some current or former governors who were unmarried while they were in office, chances are most people would scratch their heads and pause. 

Such hesitation might be expected since it is rare when voters elect an unmarried candidate to serve as chief executive of a state.  Despite the fact that a growing number of women have become governors in recent years, the most usual pattern seems to be a married man serving as governor with a first lady by his side.

Some Americans might remember the name of an unmarried governor from the past if he or she grabbed the spotlight often enough or made a big enough media splash to capture public attention. 

Remember Ann Richards from Texas who, during a keynote speech at the 1988 Democratic National Convention, said that former president George Bush couldn't be blamed for his misstatements because he was "born with a silver foot in his mouth?"  How about California's Jerry Brown who got the gossip mills churning in 1979 when he flew off to Africa on a vacation with singer Linda Ronstadt?

So maybe a few people might remember these flamboyant former governors who were single.  But who can name the three current governors who are unmarried?

That's right.  Only three of the 50 current governors are not married.

Those who live in Arizona might be aware that Governor Janet Napolitano has never married but those who live elsewhere have probably never thought of her marital status.  Apparently it is not a fact she wants to share with the public.  Although the biography on her official website mentions that Napolitano is an avid sports fan and a friend of the arts, there is no mention anywhere that the state's top Democrat is single. 

Linda Lingle gained national attention when she became the first Republican in many years to be elected Governor of Hawaii.  But the fact that she was single (having been married and divorced twice) was of little note.

Napolitano and Lingle keep a low profile in terms of their unmarried status.  In fact, they are so loathe to be identified with the "s" word, that both of them declined to accept honorary memberships in the American Association for Single People (AASP). 

The Arizona Democrat and the Hawaii Republican also rejected requests to issue proclamations recognizing National Unmarried and Single Americans Week.  Never mind that married governors in dozens of states granted such requests.

Delaware Governor Ruth Minner, a widow, has been a little more open minded than Lingle and Napolitano on this score.  She joined AASP a few years ago and later issued a proclamation declaring the third week of September as Singles Week in Delaware. 

How Jon Corzine will handle his single status while he serves as Governor of New Jersey remains to be seen. 

Will Corzine support a hike in the minimum wage which would greatly benefit low-income singles?  Will he favor a bill to require employers to allow parents to keep unmarried adult children on their health plans until age 26, thereby bringing health care to more unmarried residents of his state?  Will he want to end the state inheritance tax law which taxes estates of unmarried residents but exempts transfers to surviving spouses?

It would be terrific if Jon Corzine would mention single people in his Inaugural Speech, just as he is likely to mention families, parents, and a host of other distinct classes of people. It would be even more terrific if all four members of the "single governor's club" would pay more attention to the needs and concerns of single people and if they would stop trying to downplay their own marital status. 

Governors, you don't have to hide your single status.  It's okay to be single.  Really, it is. 

Unmarried America 2005

Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of Unmarried America, is an attorney with 33 years of experience in singles' rights, family diversity, domestic partner benefits, and marital status discrimination.  Each week he adds a new commentary to Column One: Eye on Unmarried America. E-mail: Unmarried America is a nonprofit information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and voters.