Running for office requires long hours, determination, and most of all, a supportive environment of friends and family. Spouses have long helped candidates carry the weight of campaigning: they provide a shoulder to cry on, take care of daily household needs, act as trusted confidants, and often serve as campaign surrogates. While we are all familiar with the image of a smiling and waving wife on stage with her politically-driven husband, the reverse scenario is still mostly uncharted territory. What roles do husbands play when their spouses run for office? What is their role once their wives are elected officials?
This Father’s Day, we celebrate men who have contributed to their wives success by give and take, not tug-of-war. These men have adjusted their own careers for the benefit of their wives’ political ambitions and while often invisible, their contributions to achieving greater parity in political office are of paramount importance. With two female presidential contenders in the race, the issue of the ‘first gentleman’ and the roles they should or could play becomes ever more important. We looked at some former and current ‘first gentlemen’ – men married to woman governors – and see how they are supporting the political careers of their wives.
Being a first gentleman doesn’t always come easy.
Andy Moffit became Rhode Island’s first gentleman when his wife, Gina Raimondo, was elected governor, the first woman in state history to hold that role. He told reporters that “he’s staying focused on being supportive and maintaining family normalcy” and is playing a greater role at home taking care of their children (aged 10 and 8). He has also stepped in for his wife at political events when she was ill. Similarly, Tom Hassan, who is married to Governor Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, decided to leave his position as prep-school educator at Phillips Exeter to support his wife and care for their son who has cerebral palsy. Chuck Franco, the husband of New Mexico’s Governor, Susanna Martinez, not onlygave up his position as sheriff when his wife was elected, but he spent significant time with her on the campaign trail and talking to voters. Asked about the responsibilities of being a political spouse, he said: ‘where ever she needs me, I’ll help out.’
Wade Christensen (R), who is married to Oklahoma’s Governor Mary Fallin, gave up a major portfolio of his law firm to avoid any conflict of interest for his wife. In 2013, he even published a Cookbook “Getting Grilled by Wade Christensen” to raise funds for non-profits and he chairs the spouse leadership committee of the National Association of Governors. But more importantly, he provides much needed emotional support for his wife who has said before that she “would never be able to serve as governor without the support, understanding and enthusiasm of my children, stepchildren and husband (…) All of his [Wade’s] support and love have made my job so much easier (…) When you’re running for public office people don’t always say the nicest things about you, and it’s been very important to have a husband who has always been there to encourage and defend me.”
Being a first gentleman doesn’t always come easy. Dan Mulhern admitted that he struggled with playing second fiddle to his wife, former Governor Jennifer Granholm of Michigan. Eventually he realized that he needed to provide more support and stability for his wife: he became the primary caregiver of their three children and published a letter addressed to them in Newsweek, writing:
“the choices Mom and I made to put her public service in front of my career, and for me to lead at home, left me vulnerable and caused me to rethink what it means to be a man (…) I have loved raising you and your college-age sisters. It’s been a gift. I stepped out of my male armor. I now cry when I’m sad, afraid, or just overwhelmed by the beauty of a sonata or a newborn baby. I don’t feel less of a man. I do feel more of a human being”
while often invisible, their contributions to achieving greater parity in political office are of paramount importance
These stories show that campaigning for any political office and being an elected official is easier knowing that your life – children, pets, and household – is taken care of by a partner you trust. If we want more women running for office, we need our men to step up, too: roll up your sleeves, walk the dogs, take your children to school – we are counting on you on the road to parity.
First published on Political Parity’s blog on June 19, 2015