• U.S.

GOVERNORS: Routing the Republicans

5 minute read

From sea to shining sea, the map dotted with the diverse domes of the nation’s statehouses reflected a disaster for the Republicans. The Democrats scored a net gain of at least four governorships, raising their total to 36,* their highest tally since 1936. In their sweep, the Democrats captured eight of the nation’s ten most populous states, including the twin coastal bastions of New York and California, and came close to winning Ohio and Michigan. Next year 73% of all Americans will have Democrats as their Governors.

Perhaps the most important reason for the Democrats’ success was nothing more complicated than the fact that the party had generally managed to put forward the most attractive and distinctive candidates in a campaign in which many of the gubernatorial rivals were taking remarkably similar positions. Among the winners were Raul Castro, the first Chicano to be elected in Arizona; Jerry Apodaca, the first Spanish-surnamed candidate to win in New Mexico in 56 years; and Hawaii’s George Ariyoshi, the first American of Japanese ancestry to reach a U.S. Governor’s mansion.

The Democrats also succeeded far better than the Republicans in selecting candidates who projected the image of being non-politicians at a time when politicians were often scorned.

Profiles of some of the key gubernatorial winners:

MASSACHUSETTS’ MICHAEL DUKAKIS, 41, is a new kind of Democratic politician in a state that has seen all breeds and mutations. He is a political technocrat, a bright and self-righteous reformer who declared that upon becoming Governor, “the first thing I’m going to do is to begin to introduce the idea of productivity and efficiency goals and standards into state government.” Dukakis spent eight energetic years in the legislature, where he sponsored the nation’s first no-fault automobile insurance. Then he burnished his image for two years as the moderator of The Advocates, a program on current issues by the Public Broadcasting Corporation. One obstacle remained: Republican Governor Francis Sargent, 59, a leading member of the slowly vanishing species of liberal Brahmins who have struggled for generations to control the state. Helped by an anti-Republican year in an anti-Republican state, Dukakis took 56% of the vote.

TENNESSEE’S RAY BLANTON, 44, a roughhewn, former Democratic Congressman in the populist tradition, found himself matched against one of the few attractive young Republicans to emerge in 1974: Lamar Alexander, 34, a lawyer who had helped Senator Howard Baker and retiring Governor Winfield Dunn win elections. Alexander’s main problem turned out to be general dissatisfaction with Dunn’s Republican administration, which had doubled the size of the budget to $2 billion and presented the state’s eastern region with a prison instead of the medical school it had wanted. All this, plus a strong Democratic resurgence in what had briefly been a Republican state, was enough to give Blanton the election by a margin of 56% to 44%. But Alexander’s future remains bright.

OHIO’S JAMES A. RHODES, 65, should have lost to Democratic Incumbent John J. Gilligan, 53, by all the laws and lessons of the 1974 election. An old pol who looks as though he had spent his life in smoke-filled rooms, Rhodes was Governor of Ohio from 1963 to 1970, when he largely neglected the state’s pressing social problems. Unlike Gilligan, Rhodes refused to disclose his financial records, although LIFE had accused him in 1969 of committing tax irregularities. But for all these advantages, plus a progressive record as Governor, Gilligan turned out to be his own worst enemy. A former college English professor, he projected an air of arrogance, while Rhodes appeared to be a good old boy having a harmless last hurrah. When Gilligan narrowly lost, the Governor manfully admitted: “The election was purely and simply a personal repudiation of me.”

MICHIGAN’S WILLIAM G. MILLIKEN, 56, is one incumbent Republican who has no trouble seeming to be a nonpolitician. He comes on as a shy and self-effacing man whom everyone—including the voters—instinctively wants to put at ease. Milliken had the courage, or foresight, to call on Nixon to confess his involvements in Watergate in June 1973. Last week sympathetic voters in Democratic Michigan elected their Governor to a second term by a margin of 52% to 48% over Sander Levin, a liberal state senator who lost in 1970 to the same sure political touch of the same nonpolitician.

CALIFORNIA’S EDMUND G. BROWN JR., 36, barely survived the closing rush of Republican State Controller Houston I. Flournoy, 45, to win, 51% to 49%. For months, Jerry Brown’s sharply distinctive style, moderate positions and candor in admitting that he did not have all the answers had made him a strong favorite. Then Flournoy, whose easygoing approach seemed to wear better with the voters as the campaign quickened, began to close the gap at the startling rate of 1% a day. “If we’d had a little more time I think we would have won it,” said the deeply disappointed Flournoy, and Brown’s camp agreed.

OKLAHOMA’S DAVID L. BOREN, 33, a Democratic populist, took 64% of the tally to rout James Inhofe, a conservative Republican state senator, and climax an astonishing rise to power. A state legislator who taught political science at Oklahoma Baptist University, Boren lacked money and charisma, and an early poll predicted that he would take only 1.5% of the votes in the primary. But Boren, a Rhodes scholar, had just the issue—clean up the government —for a state plagued with scandals, and he had just the sincere, plodding style to put his message across. Brandishing the broom that became his symbol (“Sweep the old guard out”), he won the primary in September and was still accelerating when he demolished Inhofe. At 33, Boren will be the youngest Governor in the nation. “Serving in office is like heading a Red Cross drive,” he says. “I’ve never thought of myself as a politician.”

* The Democrats also had a good chance of winning a tight race in Alaska, where the count of absentee ballots was continuing at week’s end.

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