Women grab majority as state leaders

Women will hold six of 10 elected offices in the executive branch of state government.

Voters picked women for governor, treasurer, auditor, secretary of state, labor commissioner and superintendent of public instruction, according to unofficial election results that include all but provisional ballots.

Auditor-elect Beth Wood, a Democrat, said the female majority is not such a big deal.

“I did not want anybody to vote for me because I'm a woman,” she said. “It just so happened that I was the most qualified for the position.”

Wood was the only candidate to unseat an incumbent among executive branch offices. She defeated Republican Les Merritt.

Democrats held an edge across the nation in an election year that was largely about change.

But it wasn't necessarily a call for change that helped Democratic state Sen. Janet Cowell win the race for treasurer. Cowell said she believes voters picked her because they wanted someone to run the state's $66 billion pension fund like outgoing Treasurer Richard Moore, a Democrat.

“What they're looking for is continued conservative management,” said Cowell, who defeated Republican state Rep. Bill Daughtridge.

Cowell said it's significant that women were elected as treasurer and auditor, state offices that deal with finance. “I think it shows that women have made strides in those industries,” she said.

Republican Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry kept her seat in a narrow win over Democratic challenger Mary Fant Donnan.

“The message I tried to put out there is I have the experience to do this job,” Berry said. “Worker safety and health care have always been my top priority.”

Berry and Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler will be the only Republicans on the Council of State, a panel of elected officials that, as a group, makes decisions about state assets and other issues. Berry said she's thankful Troxler is still on the panel so that she'll have support to have her ideas debated.

Another newcomer to the group is Insurance Commissioner-elect Wayne Goodwin, a senior assistant in the office who will succeed longtime commissioner Jim Long. Goodwin, a Democrat, defeated Republican challenger John Odom.

Goodwin said his first priority is to address the crisis with the insurance market on the state's coastal property. The government-created insurance plan – the Beach Plan – was intended as a safety net for coastal property owners, but it has become the dominant form of insurance. But it has only a fraction of the money it would need to cover damage from a major hurricane.

“I've described it as a ticking time bomb and it is,” Goodwin said.

Goodwin says he wants to have a set of recommendations ready for the legislature to consider in time for the next hurricane season.