DN Editorial: WOMEN IN PA.-LITICS

Posted: April 01, 2014

SAVVY political observers won't be shocked to learn that a greater percentage of women hold legislative office in Afghanistan than in Pennsylvania.

Yes, Afghanistan.

The Center for American Women in Politics, at Rutgers, ranks Pennsylvania 38th among states in the U.S., with women holding 17 percent of legislative seats in Harrisburg.

Women make up 28 percent of parliament in Afghanistan.

But change might be in the wind.

Kathleen Kane was the first woman to win as attorney general in the state. There are two strong and credible women running for the Democratic nomination for governor: U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz and Kathleen McGinty, former head of the state Department of Environmental Protection.

And this year, for the first time in history, a majority of Democrats running for the state House against Republicans are women. The Pennsylvania House Democratic Campaign Committee recently announced that 28 Democratic women are on the slate this year - a record number and a dozen more than last year.

"I wanted to recruit better candidates this cycle but I also wanted to focus on recruiting strong women in our most viable seats to address the lack of equal representation in the house," said Rep. Tim Briggs, of Montgomery County, the House Democratic Campaign Committee chairman.

Briggs thinks that the policies of the Republican-controlled Legislature have held back middle-class families of Pennsylvania, and sees this election as a referendum on Gov. Corbett. It also will be a referendum on the Democrats' efforts to attract more women candidates. Apparently mindful of an American University study last year titled "Girls Just Wanna Not Run" - which concluded that women aren't socialized to consider a career in politics - they aggressively recruited women outside the traditional party structure.

They scoured for candidates in bar associations, nonprofit organizations, chambers of commerce, community organizations, places where women are abundant and excel.

They recruited the likes of Leanne Krueger-Braneky, of Swarthmore, who works in economic development for small business, to challenge Republican incumbent Joe Hackett. There's lawyer and community activist Karen Chellew, running for an open seat in the 146th District race in Bucks County. Marian Moskowitz, Chester County business owner and activist in community development, is challenging Warren Kampf in the 157th District.

The candidates are mostly political neophytes. Only four of the 28 ever ran for political office before. All but five women candidates are facing an incumbent.

Democratic dreams, then, of regaining control of the GOP House, or even of changing its gender profile, are a longshot. Already, political pundits are predicting that the GOP will retain control of both houses in Harrisburg this election. Insiders privately say that the Democrats would be satisfied if they won three or four seats, and especially if those seats are won by women.

But reaching beyond narrow political boundaries to inspire capable, accomplished women to jump into the political arena is an accomplishment all by itself. Not to mention the inherent triumph in the party organization's recognition that women make strong, credible political candidates, especially in the face of retrogressive and punitive public policy.

So, watch out Afghanistan. We may (someday) catch up.

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