Tuesday, February 21, 2006

More women need to take charge of Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania has a population of 12.4 million. The Census Bureau estimates that 52 percent of Pennsylvanians are women. So you’d think there would be a comparable percentage of women holding statewide office. Wrong. Not even close.

The top elected female official in Pennsylvania is Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll, but the lieutenant governor is largely a ceremonial office. While Knoll presides over state Senate sessions, her job consists mainly of taking roll call. Mostly, she waits on the sidelines should something happen to the governor.

And Knoll’s job is in jeopardy. Knoll, who is 75, is being shoved aside as Gov. Ed Rendell prepares to seek a second term. Former Congressman Joe Hoeffel is planning to challenge Knoll in the Democratic primary and position himself as Rendell’s running mate and heir apparent.

Knoll, who served two terms as state treasurer, and Barbara Hafer, who served as state auditor and treasurer, are the only women to make an impact on statewide politics. Hafer even ran for governor, but never made it past the primary election.

Of the 50 state Senators in Pennsylvania, only nine are women. That’s less than 20 percent, way below the 52 percent population mark. There are no women in Senate leadership positions. It’s even worse in the state House of Representatives. Of the 203 members, only 24 are women. That’s less than 12 percent.

Also, three of the female state representatives have announced they’re not seeking re-election in 2006, including Chester County’s Elinor Z. Taylor, who held the post of GOP Caucus Chair, the only female leadership position in the state House. There are no women in leadership roles on Democratic side of the House.

Two of the seven members of the state Supreme Court are women, but generally speaking, all of the important decisions in Pennsylvania — both good and bad — are made by men.

That could explain why we have so many problems in Pennsylvania. We’ve seen what the boys have done with the state. The women can’t do any worse. And who’s to say they can’t do better?

Pennsylvania is not alone in having a shortage of women in public office, although the Keystone State ranks in the bottom five. A recent study found that women hold fewer than a quarter of the top jobs in state governments across the United States. Only eight of the 50 states have female governors. Fifteen of the country's lieutenant governors are women.

And the trend has hardly improved in the past eight years, according to the report by the Center for Women in Government & Civil Society at the University at Albany. From 1998 to 2005, the percentage of women in state government leadership positions rose from 23.1 percent to 24.7 percent. The study examined statewide elected officials, state legislators, high court judges, department heads, and top advisers in governors' offices. The full report can be downloaded at

Mississippi, Kentucky, South Carolina, Pennsylvania and South Dakota are the five states with the lowest female representation.

The political fortunes of women may improve significantly in Pennsylvania in 2006. Public discontent with the incumbents is at an all-time high. It began with the July 7, 2005, vote by the state legislature to give its members pay raises of 16 percent to 54 percent. It has continued over the past six months as the legislature has been unwilling to agree on a solution to the state’s No. 1 problem — skyrocketing property taxes. Voter discontent could sweep many more female legislators into office this year.

Two groups are working to find and nurture female candidates in Pennsylvania.

While the name leaves much to be desired, the Run Baby Run Reform Initiative has recruited 10 women from western Pennsylvania to run for the state Legislature.

Indirectly, another organization that would like to bring change to the male-dominated state Legislature is Operation Clean Sweep, the non-partisan citizens’ group with a state goal of ousting every incumbent on the ballot in 2006. Operation Clean Sweep has recruited 99 candidates so far to run against incumbents and 19 of its candidates are women. More information on the candidates is available at

I’ve served on various civic and non-profit boards and committees with women and have worked for and with women for the past 24 years. I’ve found women to be more focused on the job at hand and less interested in consolidating power, inflating their own egos and serving their own financial interests. Those qualities alone are reason enough to elect more women to state government.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

1 comment:

choir girl said...

It is time for a change in Pennsylvania. I would like to mention, Valerie McDonald Roberts, of Allegheny County, is also seeking the democratic endorsement. Valerie is currently the Allegheny County Recorder of Deeds, and previously was a member of Pittsburgh City Council and a board member (and President) of the Pittsburgh Public School District. She is a progressive, African American woman that would bring energy, intelligence, and experience to the Lt. Governor position, as well as to enhance the scope of advocacy on equity issues to all Pennsylvanians.