Thursday, March 3, 2011

Female officeholders: Pennsylvania's political paucity


Politically speaking, the Year of the Woman has come and gone – twice by some accounts – but it hasn’t left too many residuals in the Keystone State.

The most recent tallies by the Pennsylvania Center for Women in Politics are pretty depressing, to say the least. So as we celebrate Women’s History Month, let’s examine women’s political present and presence in Pennsylvania:

In 67 counties across this Commonwealth, only Monroe County has 80 to 100 percent female representation on a county council. Who knew that the Poconos were so progressive?

Chester, Blair, Sullivan and Philadelphia county government boards have 40 to 79 percent female representation.  

Almost half of this state has no female representation on that level.

As roughly 51 percent of the population, you’d be hard pressed to find a Pennsylvania community without women. So the fact that so many communities function without elected female voices is archaic, if not straight disturbing.

And that dearth of power isn’t just on the local level, or in the party assailed as least inclusive.

The roar of women in the General Assembly? Largely comes from Elephants, not Donkeys, since 59 percent of the General Assembly’s female members is Republican. Still, it’s hard to get but so excited when there’re just 42 women trying to make hay in a body of 253 members.

U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz:
The lone female voice for
Pennsylvania in D.C.
The Congressional delegation numbers are pitiful; U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz is the lone female of that 21-member posse. We send a frat, and one woman, to represent us in D.C. Those odds wouldn’t please too many college administrators, yet this state is apparently content with that ratio.

There’s a case to be made for increased numbers of women in elected office, beyond stereotypes of them creating more “nurturing” environments or bringing intensified focus to “women’s issues” like health care and education.

Face it, any issue that impacts families undoubtedly will be a “woman’s issue.” And some female politicians can be as overly aggressive – and stupid about it – as any dude.

But on the whole, new research finds that those women who do commit to public service tend to be more effective lawmakers overall.

The rub is that getting them elected is still about as hard as sneaking out of the house across creaky floorboards – a fact politically-minded women in a state ranked 42 out of 50 for its percentage of female officeholders know intimately. 

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