Women in Politics: How Pa. politicians continue to break the glass ceiling

Women in Politics: How Pennsylvania Politicians Continue to Break the Glass Ceiling

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — March is Women’s History Month and though women are just over 50% of the population, they have been vastly under-represented in Pennsylvania politics.

For more than a century, the Capitol’s green dome has dominated the Harrisburg skyline. Inside, the roof is gilded in gold. But the building also has a glass ceiling, one that has been dominated by men.

“Women have been raised traditionally and you don’t think you have that skill set but there’s a lot of hidden talent out there,” said Pa. Senator Judy Ward, a Republican who represents Blair, Cumberland, Franklin, Fulton and Huntingdon Counties.

Too hidden for too long.

In 2000, there were just 20 females in the 203-person state House of Representatives.

In 2010, just 25.

But the times? They are a-changing. This year, in 2021, there are 59 women in the state House, which represents about 30% of the total count.

“I’m very excited about what I refer to as my gal pals,” Rep. Pam DeLissio (D-Montgomery, Philadelphia) said.

Similar story in the 50-seat state Senate: In 2000, there were seven women. In 2010, there were 10. In 2021, there are 14 — nearly 30%.

Senator Ward said it was her son who encouraged her to run.

“I said ‘oh my goodness I could never do that.’ I think women don’t have confidence. You need someone to tell you [you have confidence],” Senator Ward said.

Like Ward, Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York) was a state Rep. and then a Senator, and doesn’t think the electorate is sexist.

“I truly believe that voters here in Pennsylvania don’t look at your gender, they look at, ‘do you have the skills, do you have the experience, do you have what’s needed to get the job done?’” Rep. Phillips-Hill said.

Women are getting the job done, especially on election day in 2020.

For the first time, all three statewide row offices had women on the ballot.

Republican Stacy Garrity pulled off a huge upset beating incumbent Treasurer Joe Torsella in November.

A week later, Republican Kim Ward became the first woman Majority Leader in the state Senate.

A day after that, Democrat Joanna McClinton became the first woan of color Minority Leader in the House. Call it a Novemb-her.

“Not having a woman in 300 years of this body was embarrassing,” Rep. John Galloway (D-Bucks) said.

Rep. Milou Mackenzie (R-Lehigh) says it’s more than just having women as colleagues.

“I feel a sense of sisterhood with the other house members,” Rep. Mackenzie said.

And motherhood with one. Rep. Mackenzie was elected to her first term. Her son Ryan is a 10-year incumbent. They are the first mother-son duo in history. Another strong mom is in the House, as well.

“I think they bring a sensitivity and awareness of what really matters to families and I think that’s really important,” Rep. Mackenzie said.

Her son agrees.

“The fact that she is a good mother, she’s caring, she’s compassionate, those things do translate to politics and government. She’s gonna serve her constituents well with those same traits,” Rep. Ryan Mackenzie (R-Lehigh) said.

Congresswoman Madeleine Dean (D-Pa. 4th District) is often reminded of the women’s suffrage movement over 100 years ago during her time in public service.

“I have this painting behind me which I love. Sunflowers were the flower of suffrage 101 years ago giving women the right to vote. we know how unequally that has rolled out,” Rep. Dean said.

IN 2016, all 18 members of Pa.’s congressional delegation were men. But the state Supreme Court threw out what it called “gerrymandered districts” and re-drew them. There are now four Democratic women from the Philly suburbs, including Congresswoman Dean.

“The diversity of ideas and opinions, whether it has to do with gender or geography or backgroundor experience or ethnicity religion or no religion makes our Democracy more vibrant and richer,” Congresswoman Dean said.

State Rep. Pam DeLissio wears a Ruth Bader Ginsburg mask with the quote, “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.” She gives them to women in her office.

“We talk about inclusion, diversity, equity. You can’t do that without women. We’re 50% of the population. We’re headed in the right direction, but I agree we’re not there yet,” Rep. DeLissio said.

Pa. has never elected a woman Governor or U.S. Senator, but both of those seats are open in two years. And given the trend, more broken glass may soon need to be swept up.

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