The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

March 22, 2008

State, region lag behind nation in women legislators


“And we’ve certainly seen some of that play out in the presidential primary,” she said.

‘I want it to matter’

In fact, officials say a low opinion of the political process is one reason that many women choose to not enter that arena.

With memories of Pennsylvania’s legislative pay raise scandal lingering, and with partisan squabbles regularly making headlines, many are disillusioned with the inner workings of state government.

Pamela Tokar-Ickes is only the second female commissioner in Somerset County.

But Tokar-Ickes never has seriously considered running for state office, in part because she worries that she would lose the “hands-on” feel of county government.

“The time I dedicate to public service, I want it to matter,” Tokar-Ickes said. “(In Harrisburg), decisions are made by a very small group of people. And that doesn’t appeal to me.”

Steelman believes that, during her time in the House, she “was able to make a few things happen, and I was able to change some people’s minds on issues.”

But she also said state government is rigidly structured and slow to act. That can be “really disturbing” for someone who goes to Harrisburg with specific goals in mind, Steelman said.

“Women tend to run for office because they want to accomplish something – something other than simply getting elected to office,” Steelman said.

The fact that the Pennsylvania legislature is full time also may play a role in limiting women’s participation, some believe.

Lowe points out that Maryland has a much higher percentage of female legislators, about 31 percent. That state’s governing body is considered part time and is in session only 90 days each year.

Lowe says full-time legislative jobs often are treated as long-term careers and are subject to more control by political parties, with less tolerance of newcomers.

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