By Kyle Wind
Pennsylvania ranks second-to-last out of all 50 states — ahead of only Mississippi — in electing women to representative positions in government, according to an organization called Representation2020.
The Maryland-based initiative ranked every state in the U.S. this year and gave the commonwealth an F, with a “gender parity” score of 6.5 out of a goal of 50 points.
The report noted Pennsylvania has no female U.S. senators, members of the U.S. House of Representatives or statewide executives; 19 percent of the state Legislature is made up of women; and relatively few women serve as mayors of cities and county commissioners.
The University of Scranton hosted a program Saturday aimed at turning the trend around.
Ready To Run Northeast Pennsylvania, modeled after a Rutgers University program, offered training in a variety of aspects of running for political office — from fundraising to messaging skills — to 25 women from the region over about seven hours.
The University of Scranton previously held the program in 2012, 2014 and 2016, and now wants to make it an annual event, said Jean Harris, a political science professor at the college.
Harris sees some signs that women are getting more politically engaged in Lackawanna County but at the same time thinks the current political climate has become less hospitable to them, which she partially attributes to President Donald Trump’s ascent.
“I feel like the climate is moving back in time when it comes to women and their status,” she said. “I’ve had students say things they never would have said a year or two ago, just in terms of denigrating women. I do think the climate has become more coarse for women and people of color in general.”
At the same time, Harris sees the political climate mobilizing many women and said it’s up to people who don’t like it to keep pushing back.
Tina Jezuit, a Jessup resident who is running for Valley View School Board, also sees the political arena becoming less hospitable to women.
“Quite honestly, it’s probably (gotten) worse,” she said. “I remember it being 1992, ‘The Year of the Woman,’ after the Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill (Supreme Court confirmation hearings). Since then, Hillary Clinton has run for president twice. We didn’t like her enough to elect her as a woman. I think we’re trying to make progress, but we haven’t actually gotten the brass ring yet. But I’m hopeful.”
Crystal Very, a Nicholson resident who is running the U.S. Senate campaign for Republican Cynthia Ayers, thinks women face more obstacles such as fundraising in a male-dominated arena, and even subconscious ones such as the way people perceive shorter candidates in debates.
“You’re presenting yourself in a different way and have to gain the people’s trust in different ways where they can realize, ‘Yes, I’m just as capable as the men are to do this job and to stand for the people,’ ” she said.