JEFFERSON CITY - In a year when the governor's office has seen much turnover, three women have risen to the top ranks of the administration's staff, but they say the fact that they are women doesn't play into their professional roles.
Gov. Bob Holden's three most important slots -- chief of staff, budget director and press secretary -- are women. And all three have each been in their positions for less than eight months. Two of them are the first women to serve in their positions, the other is the first woman in 20 years.
"A lot of people give lip service to the gender issue, but not this governor" said Chief of Staff Jane Dueker, who is the second woman to serve in that post. "He was looking for someone he is comfortable with and who is the most qualified."
Dueker was promoted to governor's top advisor role at the beginning of April. Previously she was his head lawyer -- the first woman to serve in that role.
"When I was hired I didn't know I was the first and it never occurred to the governor either," Dueker said. "That's true equality when there is no difference - gender isn't even a consideration."
Although all of them are relatively new to theit positions, none are rookies to the executive branch or office of administration.
Press secretary Mary Still and Dueker worked together in the state Attorney General's office prior to them coming across the street to the governor's office.
"When the governor was interested in hiring Jane as his legal counsel, he called me and asked my opinion," Still said. "Then when she was hired she told me 'you better come with me.'
Dueker got the move to the governor's office last summer and Still followed in August.
Still had been offered the position a year earlier, but declined it because she had a daughter in high school and felt that she couldn't dedicate the time the job would require.
"It was just not the right time for me," said Still, who now considers herself an empty-nester. "Now my husband and I are both in a position to focus more on our careers because our children are grown."
Still's husband is a lawyer in Columbia and president of the Columbia school board. "He supports and encourages me," she said.
Family matters also played into Dueker's decision to take on the new position.
"I was seven months pregnant when I was appointed to be legal counsel," Dueker said. "I had some logistical issues to deal with."
Dueker's has a 5-years-old son and a 7-month-old daughter, and she said it's natural for her to have a choice of whether to work or not.
"Women can have it all -- it's never easy, but it can be done," she said. "When I'm at home, I feel like I should be working and when I'm at home, I feel like I should be with my kids. I'm always at one or the other."
Still serves as a mentor for Dueker since she's been through it before.
"Those first years at the Attorney General's office were brutal," said Still, who had a 7th grader and 3rd grader at the time. "Every night was a PTA meeting or soccer or something else we were running to."
Still joked to Dueker, "Trust me, you'll be happy when your kids go to college."
Holden's budget director, Linda Luebbering, said she prefers to keep her personal life out of her position.
Although she wears a ring on her left ring finger, she refused to talk about her personal or family life.
"My job as budget director is to advise the governor on budget and policy issues," Luebbering said. "I am happy to talk about budget and policy, but not personal issues. I am a state employee, not a public official."
Luebbering came on board in the middle of what some have called the state's worst budget crisis, but she said she knew what she was getting into.
"The budget situation has not been a surprise to me," Luebbering said. "That doesn't make it easy, but it has helped."
Luebbering took the budget director's spot in September of last year, but has 11 years of experience in the Budget and Planning Division. She was in the budget office of the Human Services section and the budget director for the Education Department.
"I came in the middle of the governor's term, but there was a smooth transition because I was already involved in the budget office," Luebbering said.
These women juggle their personal lives and some of the top positions in the state. So what's next? -- They are keeping their options open.
"If you had told me that I would have done everythign I have done by 37, I would have thought you were crazy," Dueker said. "I don't know where I'll go from here. I guess I'll know it when I see it."
Still said she loves what she is doing and likes her "little world the way it is."
"At my age, it's hard to take risks," she said. "But, I wish I had more 'wish I hadn'ts" in my life instead of 'wonder ifs.'"