When it comes to Pennsylvania politics, men are the rule, women are the exception

Story posted December 1, 2015 in

Where are the women?

Pennsylvania has never elected a woman as governor.

A woman has never represented Pennsylvania in the United States Senate.

The only woman serving in the House of Representatives from Pennsylvania did not seek reelection in 2014, after running unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for governor. Now the state’s 18-member congressional delegation is all male.

Pennsylvania ranks 39th among state legislatures for its percentage of women and is the least gender- diverse in the Northeast. There are nine women in Pennsylvania’s 50-member Senate and 36 women in the 203-person House.

Catherine Baker Knoll was the only woman who ever rose as high as lieutenant governor. She served from 2003 until she died in office in 2008.

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Attorney General Kathleen Kane is the state’s highest-profile female elected official, but criminal charges against her have prompted calls for her resignation. (Matt Rourke/Associated Press)

The only woman serving in statewide office now, except for appellate judges, is Attorney General Kathleen Kane – and many people argue that she is serving in name only.

Kane lost her law license in September after being charged with a felony count of perjury, along with related misdemeanor charges, in connection with the alleged leak of secret grand jury testimony.

A Franklin & Marshall College poll in October found that 51 percent of registered voters believe Kane should resign because of the criminal charges against her, an increase from 46 percent in August.

While Kane said she has not broken state laws, she has said publicly that the charges stem from her having exposed a pornographic email scandal among an “old boys’ network” of elected officials in the state.


That “old boys’ network” charge has resonated if for no other reason than Pennsylvania’s record of not electing women to the most influential positions.

Barbara Hafer, who was auditor general from 1989 to 1997, state treasurer from 1997 to 2005, and an unsuccessful candidate for governor in 1990, said there is “absolutely an old boys’ network.” She said she witnessed the network firsthand when she lost to Robert P. Casey Sr. in the governor’s race a quarter- century ago.

“Anytime you have a power structure, the power is never given, it is taken,” Hafer said. “The powers never wanted me to be the governor for whatever reason -- they didn’t feel comfortable or maybe couldn’t make deals.”

Pennsylvania is one of only 10 states, six of which are Southern, that currently do not have any women serving in Congress.

One of Pennsylvania’s bordering states, New York, has eight women in the House and one in the Senate. Three bordering states – New Jersey, Maryland and Ohio – have at least one woman in Congress.

Only seven women from Pennsylvania have ever served in the U.S. House of Representatives: Veronica Grace Boland (1941-43), Vera Daerr Buchanan (1951-57), Kathryn Elizabeth Granahan (1955- 63), Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky (1993-95), Melissa Hart (2001- 2007), Kathy Dahlkemper (2009- 2011) and Allyson Schwartz (2005- 2015).


Pennsylvania politics has a long history favoring men, said G. Terry Madonna, professor of public affairs and director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College.

Madonna said the state still reflects an ethnic culture rooted in Southern and Eastern Europe, where the woman’s role is in the home.

“We have a tradition of male dominance in politics of the political apparatus as a whole and there wasn’t a lot of room for females,” he said. “Every now and then we had a woman who would break the glass ceiling, but it was very difficult.”

It wasn’t until the 1950s and 1960s that women were first elected to statewide office.

Genevieve Blatt was elected secretary of internal affairs in 1954. Grace McCalmont Sloan served as state treasurer from 1961 to 1965 and then auditor general from 1965 to 1969. She was then elected state treasurer twice more and served from 1969 to 1977.

Next, Hafer served as auditor general from 1989 to 1997 and as state treasurer from 1997 to 2005.

Robin Weissmann served as treasurer from 2007 to 2009, although she was appointed after then-Treasurer Robert P. Casey Jr. was elected to the U.S. Senate.

Linda Kelly was appointed attorney general in 2011 after Attorney General Tom Corbett was elected governor. In 2012, Kane was the first woman elected attorney general.

Knoll defeated state Senator Jack Wagner and state Senator Allen Kukovich, among others, in the 2002 Democratic primary for lieutenant governor. As Ed Rendell’s running mate, she was elected lieutenant governor later that year.

Schwartz, another prominent woman in Pennsylvania politics, who had been a longtime state senator, left Congress at the beginning of its current term in 2015. Last year, she sought the Democratic nomination for governor but lost to Tom Wolf, who was eventually elected governor.


Hafer’s run for governor was met with many challenges both personally and politically, she said.
Besides struggling to raise a family and to raise money for political campaigns, she faced criticism from men and women, problems within the party structure – and discrimination for being a woman.

“I was shocked to learn after running for governor that business people told my party they would not support me because I was a woman,” Hafer said. “Not that I wasn’t qualified. They just wouldn’t support me; they didn’t feel comfortable.”

Though she said she believes women are supporting each other more than they did in the past, there are still women, as well as men, who don’t want women in positions of power.

When Hafer first started running for office, she used to visit the same Republican committeewoman every four years and ask her to sign a petition to put her on the ballot. But every time she asked, the woman refused to sign. She did not believe women should be in a position of power.

“There are a lot of obstacles,” Hafer said, “and you just have to overcome them.”


Candace Dannaker made history on a smaller scale in 1993 when she was elected as the first female mayor of Bellefonte in Centre County. She beat incumbent James Derschner.
In 1997, Dannaker ran unopposed for reelection and served until 2001.
Even on the local level, she said, she experienced criticism like that Hafer faced.
She said that when she was first elected, the men serving on the borough council were from a generation who thought it wasn’t a woman’s place to be mayor.

“What I called them was the good old boys’ club, because they had all known each other for a long time, and this outsider came in and sort of upset their tight-knit circle,” Dannaker said.
She said she realized early on that she was considered an interloper because she did not jump through the hoops that the “good old boys” thought she should have.

During her eight years as mayor, she was often challenged by men. “If you could get through the gauntlet successfully, they treated you pretty well,” she said. “Fortunately, I had brothers so they knew how [men] thought.”

She said she was careful how she interacted with her male colleagues. For example, she never used her nickname, Candy, in situations where she was in her “big-girl role.” If she had, they would have treated her like a child, she said. Still, she was often disrespected.

On one of her first days as mayor, she said, a police officer – never mind that the police worked for the mayor – asked her to bake cookies and bring them into the office. She politely informed him that she didn’t bake, but she would be pleased if he would bring some cookies.

A council member told her, “Whatever you do, don’t sit there during a meeting knitting.” To that, Dannaker replied she didn’t knit.

When she started a campaign for lieutenant governor in 2001, she said she spoke with the chairman of the state Republican Party at the time and he questioned why she was running. She explained her stances on the important issues, but he was not convinced.

“He said, ‘Well, why don’t you start at the bottom of the party and work your way up?’ I said, ‘No, that is not how I work.’ ”


Madonna said women tend to start at the local level – as council members, school board members, township supervisors – to get active in their party and climb the ladder.

That was not the route taken by Democrat Lynn Yeakel, of suburban Philadelphia, who ran unsuccessfully against then-Republican incumbent Arlen Specter in a bitter U.S. Senate race in 1992.

That campaign occurred during the so-called “Year of the Woman,” a term coined after what many viewed as the Senate Judiciary Committee’s condescending treatment of law professor Anita Hill during nomination hearings for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Specter, who was a member of the all-male committee, had accused Hill of “flat-out perjury” for her testimony that Thomas had allegedly sexually harassed her.

Yeakel was only the second woman in Pennsylvania history to win a Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate (and there has not been another since). She said she was questioned on her choice to run for a high position without starting lower, such as running for the state legislature.
Yeakel said she believed that if men could run for higher office without a lower-level political apprenticeship, then the same should be true for women.

“We shouldn’t have to work our way up the ladder, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing either,” said Yeakel.

Jennie Sweet-Cushman, assistant director of the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics at Chatham University, said it is more important for women to be a part of that “pipeline,” however.
She said men are more apt to think they are qualified for a position of power, even if they don’t have a political background, because they believe in the leadership skills they developed in their business or professional careers.

“A man will self-start and decide running for office is something he would like to do,” Sweet-Cushman said. “Whereas a woman needs to be told on average six times that she should run before she will even consider it.”

But for some candidates, men and women, politics is a “rough and tumble deal that is not for the faint of heart,” Madonna said.


Both Dannaker and Hafer said they faced criticism over matters as mundane as the clothes they wore when campaigning.

“A man could wear the same suit and tie and no one would notice,” Hafer said, “but if I had the same suit on in Erie that I wore in Pottstown, somebody would say, ‘I just saw you in that suit.’ The criticism of women is brutal.”

These criticisms – in combination with challenges of fundraising and taking care of the family at home – make it hard for women to climb the ranks and lead some to opt out of running for office, she said.

Sweet-Cushman identified institutional aspects of the Pennsylvania legislature that create barriers for women.

She said Pennsylvania is a large, professional legislature that can be a full-time job for its members. In states where the legislature is part-time and pays a lower salary, she said, women are more likely to serve because they are not the family breadwinners. She said men are not as interested in running for a legislative job that takes only six weeks a year and pays pennies.

Additionally, she said, Pennsylvania does not have term limits that would force male legislators out of seats they have been holding for decades.

Madonna said women tend to give their families a higher priority than their political aspirations: They think about how they will commute to Harrisburg. They wonder who is going to take care of the kids while their husbands are working.

For Hafer, balancing work and family wasn’t detrimental to her political advancement at the statewide level because she had the help she needed.

Her husband had three children of his own and she had one child, and the merged family of six lived in a home on a private school’s campus where her husband was the headmaster.
Because Hafer had full-time household help and access to meals in the central dining room, she said, her household responsibilities were more manageable.


Madonna said that historically women have had a harder time fundraising for campaigns. He said that was because men are less inclined to give to women, and women are often more timid in asking for what they want.

“Maybe women are more reluctant to solicit money, but you have to get over that,” he said. “Politicians are extroverted and outgoing. They are shameless.”

State Senator Pat Vance said not enough women write checks for other women running in office. She said most political donations are from men.

Vance got her own political start at the local level, as recorder of deeds in Cumberland County, just west of Harrisburg, in 1978. She served in that post until 1990, when she was elected to the state House of Representatives. She served in the House until 2004 and has been in the state Senate ever since.

Vance noted the old saying that “money is the mother’s milk of politics” and, therefore, women need to be willing to contribute to other women.

For women to move forward and gain more political responsibility, Hafer said, they have to be prepared to sacrifice and they have to find situations that allow them to move through the “pipeline.”

She said women need to create a strong support system by seeking help from other women and by backing other women.

Women have to get to the point where they feel comfortable running for office, said Kathy Kleeman of the Center for American Women and Politics at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University.

“We always say a man likes to wake up in the morning and look in the mirror and say, ‘I would make a great state senator,’ and just goes and does it,” she said. “Women question their own training, experience and knowing the right people.”

Kleeman said women should seek the training they need to feel comfortable as candidates. In Pennsylvania, that kind of training is provided by programs and organizations such as Ready to Run Pennsylvania, Center for Progressive Leadership Pennsylvania, New Leadership Pennsylvania, and Women in Leadership Program. These groups offer seminars, networking opportunities and mentoring.

At Chatham University, women are taught how to draw up a campaign and how to execute it, how to fundraise, and how to talk to the news media, Sweet-Cushman said.

Kleeman said the more that people see a variety of women in office, the more they realize that women belong there.

“They start to say, ‘Well if she can do that, I can do that,’” she said.

Vance said she would never tell people to vote for a candidate simply because she is a woman.

She said women candidates need to say, “Vote for me because I am the best qualified.”
Madonna said the landscape for women is changing, but not quickly. Yet he refuses to be pessimistic. To female students who are interested in political careers, he says: Keep at it, work hard, and understand that success does not come easy.

Dannaker said there is a long road ahead for women, but they need to use their instincts and confidence.

“If you are going to be better than a man, you have to be twice as sharp,” she said. “But fortunately, that isn’t difficult.”


(This story was also published in The Lion's Roar, Dec. 1, 2015)

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