Pennsylvania lags behind in electing women to political office | News

After Erin McClelland defeated her primary opponent, state Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, D-Erie County, in April, the race for Pennsylvania treasurer became the only race for state office in which voters They will choose between two women.

The incumbent, Republican Stacy Garrity, is the fifth woman in Pennsylvania history to serve as treasurer, a position charged with managing a staff of more than 300 and the Commonwealth’s investments.

In recent years, women have been making history more frequently in Pennsylvania, and progress has been made to bring the number of elected officials closer to the state’s demographics. However, in a state where half of the 12.9 million residents are women, there is still an imbalance: 68 percent of the seats in the Legislature, for example, are held by men.

For some candidates (and voters) it is not a focal point.

But defenders of Republican, Democratic and non-partisan projects created in recent years with the aim of increasing the percentages of women in public office argue that it does make a difference.

“Number parity is a measure and indicator of women’s political influence and power in the political system,” said Kelly Dittmar, a political science professor at Rutgers-Camden and research director at the Center for American Women at politics.

Among the 50 states, Pennsylvania ranks 26th, the center says, in terms of female representation in politics, which includes members of state legislatures and Congress.

It’s a marked improvement from where the state was just a few years ago. In 2016, Pennsylvania ranked 40th.

There have been great strides, especially in western Pennsylvania. Summer Lee, D-Swissvale, is the first Black woman elected to Congress from Pennsylvania, and Sara Innamorato, another Democrat, is the first woman to serve as Allegheny County executive.

Both previously served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives after upsetting male incumbents in the politically prominent Costa family.

Garrity’s race against McClelland, while unique in this year’s election, is not the first time two women have faced off for office. In the 1996 and 2000 election cycles, women competed for the task of managing the state’s bank accounts.

But there is still work to be done to attract more women to those roles. The Keystone State has never had a woman in the governor’s office, and only five of its 19 congressional seats are held by women.

“There is no doubt that women are underrepresented in elected office in the Commonwealth,” Garrity said. “I think culturally in the past we’ve been more likely to push men to run, and I think that’s changing.”

McClelland did not respond to requests for comment.

Part of the problem is cultural perception, according to Dana Brown, executive director of the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics at Chatham University.

“Voters perceive that women are not necessarily the strongest candidates,” she said.

Because of this, women often delay their careers until they improve their credentials with more education or work experience.

Men running for office tend to be “more likely to assume they already have the confidence and knowledge,” Brown added.

Lack of women at the polls

Pennsylvania has five statewide elected executive offices: governor, lieutenant governor, auditor general, attorney general, and treasurer.

This year, the positions of auditor general, attorney general and treasurer are on the November ballot. Among those races, only three women ran in the April primary: Garrity, McClelland and veteran Philadelphia public defender Keir Bradford-Grey, who ran in a crowded field in the Democratic primary for attorney general and lost to Eugene DePasquale of Pittsburgh.

Advocates would like to see more candidates for these positions.

“We could and should do better,” Garrity said. “When you look at leaders and communities across the state, there are so many qualified businesswomen who could and should be recruited.”

Other states are doing better. Nevada has ranked first according to the Center for American Women in Politics in terms of female representation since 2019, the same year it reached parity. This year, 60 percent of the Nevada Legislature is women.

Michigan, a leading state like Pennsylvania, ranks 14th. Unlike Pennsylvania, the state has twice elected a woman governor and other state-level executive positions are held by women. Women make up about 40 percent of the Michigan Legislature.

When women hold public office, advocates note, bills focusing on child care, equal pay and maternal health have been introduced and sometimes passed.

Before becoming a state representative, La’Tasha Mayes, D-Allegheny, was founder and executive director of New Voices Reproductive Justice, an organization focused on creating safe and equitable access to reproductive health.

Recently, the state House passed legislation she sponsored to require Medicaid to cover blood pressure monitors. High blood pressure is one of the main causes of maternal mortality.

Structural and cultural obstacles to elections

In Pennsylvania history, only nine women, none of them black, have ever held the top five executive positions.

That group includes Garrity, although the distinction is not a priority for her. “I don’t think about it much,” she said.

Before running for office, he spent 30 years in the military and then worked in manufacturing, both fields traditionally dominated by men.

“(In the Army) we were not divided by race, gender or religion,” he said. “When I looked at people, I saw camouflage.”

But she noted that when she first ran for treasurer in 2020, “there really wasn’t much infrastructure to help (female candidates) in the Republican Party.” Additionally, she was running at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, which created other challenges.

The lack of party support is one of the many obstacles the candidates say they have faced. Without that structured support, many women – especially first-time candidates – have a harder time on the campaign trail with things like raising money and getting support.

In 2018, an NPR analysis of Federal Election Commission filings in 67 of the most competitive congressional districts found that women running for Congress raised an average of $500,000 less than their male counterparts.

“Both major political parties have historically acted … as negative barriers for women, youth and people of color in terms of recruiting and opening doors to political life,” said Brown, of Chatham.

That is starting to change, he added.

In Pennsylvania, Republican women can lean on the Anne B. Anstine Series, an annual training program that “prepares women to be more effective leaders in government,” according to its website.

Democratic women have a branch of the national Emerge organization that hosts workshops to help candidates learn how to run for office.

The Chatham Center for Women and Politics, a nonpartisan organization, also focuses on educational programs for women considering entering politics. State Rep. Jessica Benham, D-Allegheny, Mayes and Innamorato attended the training sessions, Brown said.

Following Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election, Brown said the center saw a significant increase in women in its sessions. In January 2017, about 170 women attended. Since then, attendance has dropped to about 50 women at that January program each year.

Nationally, Dittmar said, the number of female candidates this year is lower compared to 2018, when a record number were voted for public office across the country.

“After we have some success for women, we must remember that we still have a lot of work to do,” she said. “We cannot rely on the success of any election year, not even two.”

Other challenges

Money is also a problem. Women are less likely to spend their own money on campaigns, putting them at a disadvantage, according to research from the Center for American Women in Politics.

“Women just have to work 29,000 times harder in any capacity, whether it’s fundraising (or) whatever it is just to exist in this (political) space,” state Sen. Katie Muth, D-Chester/Montgomery, told the center. /Berks. as part of a research project.

“But that’s why we do it, right? So that other women can exist without harm.”

According to Brown, there is still a cultural aspect that explains why women do not run for public office.

“Women are still predominantly the caregivers of the family, whether they are elderly parents or children,” she said. This means that many who run for office tend to wait until later in life, usually after their children are grown.

“What happens then is that your political career is shorter.”

Many leadership positions in politics are based on seniority – the length of time someone has been in office. If women wait longer to apply and don’t stay in office as long, it becomes more difficult to take on leadership roles, she said.

In 2023, more than a century after women gained the right to vote, Pennsylvania lawmakers elected two women to lead both chambers of the Legislature.

The House elected its first female speaker, Rep. Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, and the Senate’s first female president pro tempore, Sen. Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland. McClinton is also the first Black woman to hold the position.

For women of color, the challenges of running for public office are even greater. No state has ever had a black female governor. Philadelphia had 99 mayors before a black woman, Democrat Cherelle Parker, was elected last year.

In an interview McClinton did with the Center for American Women in Politics, she said other candidates are encouraged by her success.

“Although (progress) has been slow, it will start to increase,” he said in the interview. “We will be able to get more women of color, more women from diverse backgrounds, elected as well. It’s just difficult in this day and age where we still have a patriarchal system; “We just still have a system made up of mostly white men.”