The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

March 22, 2008

State, region lag behind nation in women legislators

In 1922, an Ebensburg school principal was one of the first eight women elected to the state House of Representatives.

But in the 85 years that have passed since that momentous vote, only two other Cambria County women have been selected for the state legislature. No women from Somerset County have served in Harrisburg.

It is a trend mirrored throughout Pennsylvania, which consistently ranks among the states with the lowest percentage of female lawmakers.

Observers say a host of barriers, both real and perceived, may keep women from getting involved in state office. And some are working hard to change that.

But the legislature’s current makeup does not reflect a populace that, locally and statewide, is about 50 percent female – although it is not uncommon to find women in key positions in local municipal government.

“It’s disappointing, but we’re going to keep trying,” said Rob Gleason, chairman of the Cambria County and Pennsylvania Republican parties.

“We’re very interested in talking to any woman who wants to get involved.”

Next month’s primary ballot will feature a woman, Hillary Clinton, trying to become to first of her gender to secure the Democratic nomination for president.

Locally, however, the ballot will be a prime example of the dearth of women seeking office at the state level: Of 27 candidates for state office in Cambria and Somerset counties, none are female.

Other statistics further illustrate the issue:

n Pennsylvania, with women making up 14.6 percent of its legislature, ranks 43rd among the 50 states in that category, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

n Of more than 430 candidates vying for state office throughout Pennsylvania in the April 22 primary, only 14 percent are women.

n No woman from Cambria or Somerset counties has reached the state Senate.

n No woman from either county has served more than two terms in the state House. Sara Steelman, who served from 1991 to 2002, represented a small portion of Cambria County but was based in Indiana County.

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