Just nine months after winning West Virginia’s top job as a Democrat, Justice took center stage as Trump looked on and announced he was switching to the GOP, telling his voters that “I can’t help you anymore being a Democrat governor.” The newly minted Republican — who, like Trump, was a billionaire businessman with no political experience before being elected — sang the president’s praises, saying he has “backbone” and “cares about us in West Virginia.” With Justice’s defection, Democrats hold just three Southern governorships. (Posted August 3)
Black, who became chair of the House Budget Committee earlier this year when Tom Price left to join President Trump’s Cabinet, is now the the third Republican woman running for governor in a state that has never had a female chief executive. In her announcement video, Black burnished her conservative bona fides, declaring that people in her state “believe in absolute truths — right is right, wrong is wrong, truth is truth, God is God, and a life is a life. And we don’t back down from any of it.” Black worked as a nurse before entering politics. (Posted August 2)
Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam easily won the Democratic nomination for Virginia governor, brushing aside an anti-establishment challenge from former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello. But on the Republican side, former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie could only squeak out a narrow win over Corey Stewart, Donald Trump’s one-time Virginia campaign director, in a race that turned out to be much closer than pre-election polls had forecast. The results of the June 13 primary now set up what is likely to be an expensive and hard-fought race in the fall for the South’s only open governorship. (Posted June 12)
Facing likely impeachment and possible criminal charges, Bentley resigned as governor of Alabama and pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors stemming from his efforts to extricate himself from a scandal over his relationship with former aide Rebekah Mason. Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey was then sworn in as the state’s new chief executive, becoming only the second woman to ever hold Alabama’s highest office. Bentley’s resignation capped a remarkable fall from grace for the dermatologist-turned-governor from Tuscaloosa, whose good name, marriage and political future were all swept aside by the salacious story of a septuagenarian Baptist grandfather of seven carrying on with a married mother of three who is nearly three decades his junior. Under terms of a plea deal, Bentley avoids jail time and keeps his medical license, but he is barred from seeking political office again. Ivey said her first priorities would be to “steady the ship of state and improve Alabama’s image.” (Posted April 11)
After a year of turmoil and economic losses, North Carolina legislators have passed a bill that rolls back HB2, which prohibited transgendered people from using restrooms in public facilities that didn’t conform with their their birth gender. However, the compromise hammered out by Democratic Governor Roy Cooper and GOP legislature leaders also forbids local jurisdictions in North Carolina from passing non-discrimination ordinances protecting LGBTQ people until at least 2020, a compromise being criticized by LGBTQ advocates. Cooper, propelled to office on a pledge to repeal HB2, said the compromise wasn’t perfect but “begins to repair our reputation.” (Posted March 30)
Republican Henry McMaster has taken the reins as the new governor of South Carolina, after outgoing Governor Nikki Haley’s confirmation to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. McMaster, who had served as lieutenant governor since 2011, was sworn in during a brief ceremony inside the South Carolina State House on January 24, shortly after the U.S. Senate voted 96 to 4 to confirm Haley and she resigned the governorship. McMaster, 69, a former U.S. attorney and state attorney general, has been lieutenant governor since 2015. He is expected to seek a full term as governor in 2018. (Posted January 25).