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Inside the Governor Group Chat

Originally published by Madison Feller for Elle

Look, no one likes to upstage a bride. But when New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham married her longtime partner in May 2022 on a hotter-than-average day in Washington, D.C., eyes were trained on the powerhouse lineup of politicians at her side: the ceremony’s officiant, Vice President Kamala Harris, and her bridesmaids, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, Maine Gov. Janet Mills, and then-governor of Oregon, Kate Brown.

The bridesmaids came equipped with the staples—bouquets and personalized toasts—though instead of standard, candy-colored dresses, the governors plotted to wear something a little more distinguished. “Michelle had an outfit picked out, and Laura and I conspired and vetoed it,” Whitmer says during a group governors’ lunch in Ypsilanti, Michigan this past May. “We just decided we needed to maintain our dignity,” Kelly jokes, the two falling into laughter. “We were all on the ballot too,” Whitmer adds. “We were like, no.” In the end, with the bride’s approval, they chose a uniform of champagne-colored shirts and black suits.

On the phone a few weeks after the lunch, Lujan Grisham maintains that the whole governors-as-bridesmaids thing started as a joke, a suggestion she threw out during a group dinner one night. But quickly, that joke turned into reality, and it became clear they’d been the perfect choice all along.

When the wedding weekend came, the governors were elbows deep in work; in the chaos, one of her bridesmaids could only find a long-sleeved shirt. It was far too hot for that, so she cut the sleeves off in the Vice President’s house. “They made the time and supported me in a really important, personal moment,” Lujan Grisham says. “It’s something I’ll never forget.”

In the United States, it’s still rare to find a female governor, and for the handful that win their state’s highest office, banding together can be essential. At the time of Lujan Grisham’s wedding, there were only six female Democratic governors nationwide, including New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, who was sworn in mid-2021. After the 2022 midterms, Brown left office, because she was term-limited, but three more women joined the ranks, bringing the group to a historic eight. Across the country, there are now a record-breaking 12 female governors total; Republicans Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Kay Ivey, Kristi Noem, and Kimberly Reynolds round out the group.

Most days, the Democratic governors are spread out, commanding their states, working with legislatures, and fighting back against those who are still loath to see a woman in charge. But as the few to hold these unique positions, they insist that the bond they share with one another isn’t a bonus—it’s another critical part of the job.

Take their origin story, for instance. When asked how their friendship first started, Kelly deadpans that it grew “out of true desperation.” “You walk into a pretty much all-male group, and the first thing you’re going to do is gravitate toward one of your own,” she says, picking between plates of sandwiches and tater tots at Bobcat Bonnie’s, a LGBTQ-owned gastropub in downtown Ypsilanti. At the table, she’s joined by Whitmer, Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs, and Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey, who are all in town for a Democratic Governors Association policy conference. Since 2018, the DGA has invested more than $80 million electing this class of female Democratic governors, and DGA events are a space for the women to hang out and be together.

Whenever possible, the governors make time for a meal or a quick walk-and-talk—they also have a group text chat for when they’re long distance—and at this lunch, their rapport is easy and light. At one point, when Healey has to leave early to catch a plane, she points at Hobbs and her plate covered in salad and exclaims: “Look at who’s healthy though. Can you tell she’s the marathon runner?” (Hobbs quickly clarifies she’s never actually run a marathon; though, she has competed in triathlons.) They might not know exactly how old everyone is or how old their kids are—the details you could easily rattle off about your best friends—but they know the most important thing: what it’s like to carry the weight of a state on your shoulders.

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