California

California has never had a female governor. These 3 women want a shot at it in 2026

Eleni Kounalakis speaks after being sworn in as Lieutenant Governor of California

Eleni Kounalakis gives a speech after being sworn in as Lieutenant Governor of California. She is the first woman in this position.
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Eleni Kounalakis gives a speech after being sworn in as Lieutenant Governor of California. She is the first woman in this position.

The race to become California’s first woman governor has officially started.

At a Sacramento Press Club luncheon on Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, State Treasurer Fiona Ma and California Controller Betty T. Yee all said they are open to running for the state’s top position in 2026, when Gov. Gavin Newsom would term out of office.

“Wow! @EleniForCA @BettyYeeforCA @fionama say they are all in for Gov in 2026!” a Press Club tweet read.

Together for the first time since their election, the three statewide leaders spoke about their families’ immigration backgrounds, holding President Donald Trump’s administration accountable following the end to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and the rise of women in California politics.

Kounalakis — who is the state’s first woman lieutenant governor and a former ambassador to Hungary under President Barack Obama — said she was inspired by lessons learned from Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and eventual loss to Trump.

“I thought that would feel good, to be able to bring down the glass ceiling along the way,” Kounalakis said, referencing a famous Clinton quote.

“We’re still not there yet in being able to see women as leaders,” she continued. “If there’s one incredible thing that came out of 2018, you now have all of these role models. Now younger women coming up have more models to follow, and voters can associate women leaders with other women leaders who they know have served them well.”

This is the first time in California history that three statewide constitutional offices are held by women, a fact that Kounalakis, Ma and Yee said reflects voters’ interest in seeing more women in elected positions.

“I think voters do like to vote for women given the opportunity,” said Ma, who is the first woman of color to be state treasurer and a former member of the Legislature. “They see women work really hard, we try to do the right thing, we use our social skills of communication and also listening a lot. And folks saw that and we were really successful all down the levels of government.”

Yee was elected for her second term as controller in November, and is the tenth woman elected to statewide office in California history. In November, she was the top vote-getter on the California ballot. Her 8 million votes surpassed Newsom’s 7.7 million.

“The day of women waiting to be asked to run is over,” Yee said at the Press Club.

Hannah Wiley joined The Bee as a legislative reporter in 2019. She produces the morning newsletter for Capitol Alert and previously reported on immigration, education and criminal justice. She’s a Chicago-area native and a graduate of Saint Louis University and Northwestern.
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