In the late 90s, these women held the top important positions in state government.
Arizona holds a special record, and it’s not for the highest temperatures in the US (Death Valley in California still holds that title). In the late ’90s, five women simultaneously held the highest positions in Arizona state government, and in no time were dubbed Arizona’s Fab Five.
The five women—Gov. Jane Dee Hull, Secretary of State Betsey Bayless, state Attorney General Janet Napolitano, Treasurer Carol Springer, and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan—collectively ran the state, a feat that had never been accomplished before and hasn’t happened again since.
Despite sharing one clear characteristic, the Fab Five didn’t focus heavily on their gender while in office. Across their campaigns, Pew’s Stateline reported in 1999, the women did all focus on child welfare in one way or another, but the group really covered a wide scope of issues facing Arizonans.
“It was a time of good government,” Bayless told AZCentral, “there were not a lot of ruffles, everyone did a good job.”
Let’s dig in a little more.
Jane Dee Hull
Hull, a Republican, broke barriers before even setting foot inside the governor’s office. After starting her professional career as a teacher for the Navajo Nation, she was elected to the Arizona House of Representatives and became the chamber’s first woman speaker of the House.
Hull became governor after her predecessor John Fife Symington resigned from office after being convicted on charges of extortion and bank fraud. She was actually sworn in by another barrier-breaking Arizonan, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Hull was formally elected to the governor’s office the following year, and she served until 2003.
As the Associated Press reported when she passed away in 2020, Hull’s policy agenda leaned more moderate than when she was a state legislator.
“I tried to steer the Titanic a little bit more toward the education of our kids, and I really put the focus on children. Unfortunately a focus costs money and that’s what we did,” Hull said in a December 2002 interview shortly before leaving office.
Hull appointed Betsey Bayless to serve as her secretary of state.
Secretary of State
A third-generation Arizonan, Bayless served as a member of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors before her appointment to secretary of state in 1997.
Like Hull, Bayless won her election the following year and served until 2003. She ran for governor in the next cycle but didn’t win the Republican primary.
In an interview with the Tempe Historical League, she credits her grandmother and mother for helping her to become a trailblazer.
“My grandmother, Betsey Hickcox, she lived in Inspiration, Arizona. I spent a lot of time with her during the summers and she modeled for me a lot of feminine capability, strength, independence, and I learned a lot from her,” Bayless shared. “She gave me a lot of self-worth, and my mother was just like her, a very strong, independent woman, who was insisting that I do well, not only in school and so forth, but in the community. They were not thrilled when I ran for public office because they thought that would be too hard on me—and it is hard—but they supported me all the way.”
In the years since her time in political office, Bayless served as chief executive officer for the Maricopa Integrated Health System. There, she is credited with restoring the hospital system’s finances and expanding care for patients.
Bayless was inducted into the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame in 2020.
Arizona Attorney General Janet Napolitano is the only Democrat among the Fab Five, but reports from the time show that the group worked well together.
Napolitano already had a successful political career before becoming the attorney general of Arizona. Back in 1991, she served as an attorney for Anita Hill as she testified in the US Senate that the then-US Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her.
Later, Napolitano was appointed by President Bill Clinton to serve as United States attorney for the district of Arizona in 1993 and then won her election to become Arizona attorney general in 1998.
During her time as state attorney general, she focused much of her attention on consumer protection issues and improving law enforcement. Napolitano went on to serve as governor of Arizona for two terms. Once she reached her term limits in 2009, she served under President Barack Obama and was the first woman appointed secretary of Homeland Security.
In a 2019 interview with Berkeley Law, Napolitano talked about the importance of having more women in positions of power. “Women are extremely talented and bring skills and experiences that are unique and valuable,” she said. “Not having women leaders is like an artificial limitation on the talent pool. Not having women in leadership roles silences the dynamic and exceptional perspectives and contributions that women bring to the table.”
Republican Carol Springer was elected to serve as state treasurer of Arizona in 1998. Springer was the first woman to lead the treasurer’s office and was best known for her fiscal prowess.
Springer managed to bring Arizona into financial good standing and increased the state’s rainy day fund. According to reporting by The Daily Courier, Springer was consistently recognized as a “friend of the taxpayer” by the Arizona Federation of Taxpayers. She also spent a lot of time thinking about water issues, and became an unofficial expert on the 1980 Groundwater Act.
But Springer wasn’t just business, according to AZCentral. She had a personable nature and good sense of humor, even laughing about the Fab Five being compared to the Spice Girls and her title as “Baby Spice.”
After her time as state treasurer, she unsuccessfully ran for governor and served on the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors.
Lisa Graham Keegan
Superintendent of Public Instruction
Like her other Fab Fivers, Lisa Graham Keegan’s political career began well before she served as Arizona’s Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Prior to that role she served two terms in the Arizona House of Representatives, from 1991 to 1995. While there, she served as chair of the Education Committee.
As superintendent she oversaw the state’s charter school program and worked on test standards. Some of her moves were controversial, like her enactment of Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS). Those standards set goals for math, reading, writing, and science that students must meet to graduate.
In response to criticism of the standards Keegan took the tests herself and posted her passing results.