GOP women look beyond gender in governor's race

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Insurance commissioner Steve Poizner and businesswoman Meg Whitman are vying for the Republican nomination for governor of California. If Whitman finishes on top in the June primary, she’d be the first woman to win the state GOP’s gubernatorial nomination. That might win the former eBay chief extra votes in November. But just being a woman didn’t seem to win her an extra boost from women at the recent Republican Party convention in Santa Clara.

Amber Johnson says she likes having a woman in the race for the state’s most powerful office.

"I think it’s great. She’s a woman and she’s a very strong person as well."

But the Republican from San Luis Obispo says she supports Meg Whitman for reasons other than the fact she’s a woman.

"Meg Whitman can bring back to California a well-balanced approach and jobs and hopefully bring our state economy back on track," said Johnson.

That’s the message from Republican women at the convention – what Meg Whitman will do is more important than being a woman. But that doesn’t mean having a woman running for governor means nothing.

Republican Kathleen Tijan embraces the diversity of this year’s GOP candidates – among them, African-American Damon Dunn, who’s running for secretary of state.

"I think we’re seeing that the party is representing all," Tijan said. "They’re sending candidates that they feel are the best forward, whether they be black, white, man, woman or whatever. So I think that’s good for the party."

But Tijan, a teacher from Sacramento, won’t back Whitman for governor. Whitman’s advocating a plan to tie teachers' pay to students’ performance. Tijan’s colleague, Carol Phalin of San Bernardino, says that’s unfair.

"We have students that come in with a wealth of knowledge and some that come in not knowing their colors in kindergarten," Phalin explained.

As for women politicians, Phalin says they’re like women school principals she’s known.

"There are some that are wonderful to work for, and there are some that are so power hungry that they lose their insight."

"It’s what they believe, male of female, that I care about," says Cathy Mason. The Republican from Calaveras says she’ll support the candidate who is most trustworthy – and who upholds the Constitution.

"It doesn’t have to be a woman for me," Mason insists. "We’ve had two Democratic women and I think they’ve been devastating for our state. Senator Feinstein and Boxer. The sex of the person doesn’t matter."

Likewise, Pat Shuff of Fullerton quickly discounts the importance of a candidate’s sex. "It isn’t that I wouldn’t vote for a woman candidate, but she has to have the best qualifications. It just comes down to who I think will do the job best."

Shuff says the next Republican governor of California needs to know how to govern well – and needs to share the party’s goals. She says the Republican governor in office now has been a big disappointment on that front.

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