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New Jersey's First Black Woman to Be Lieutenant Governor

Lieutenant Governor, N.J.

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Sheila Oliver has long admired Shirley Chisholm. As the first black woman lieutenant governor of New Jersey, Oliver sees a role model in the late, iconic New York congresswoman, who was the first black woman elected to Congress and who made a historic bid for the presidency in 1972. “One of the things I learned from her,” Oliver says, “is that you have to learn to swim upstream when the current is going in the other direction. You also have to have an alligator hide.”

Oliver worked to develop that tough skin in her state’s General Assembly, where she served as a Democratic representative from 2004 to 2018 and as speaker between 2010 and 2014. She was only the second black woman speaker in the nation’s history. “Social media and technology has totally changed the game and made it possible for more women to be successful in running and winning office,” Oliver says, noting that “like-minded people, even though they may not live in your district or city or state,” can more easily support these candidates. Having worked in her legislature to raise the minimum wage and enact same-sex marriage, she looks forward to continuing to fight for affordable housing and free college as lieutenant governor.

Read about the Women in Government program and the rest of the honorees.

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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