CANONSBURG – Pennsylvania ranks 39th of 50 state Legislatures for its proportion of women.
There are nine women out of 50 state senators and 36 women among 203 state House members, making up just 17.8 percent of the total. Thirty-eight of 67 counties have no women serving as county commissioner, a member of a county council or as a county executive.
“There should be gasps all across the room,” said Dana Brown, executive director of the nonpartisan Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics at Chatham University, Pittsburgh, at a “Women in Politics” forum Thursday night at Southpointe.
In a wide-ranging discussion, women who have overcome this dismal record talked about what it takes to beat the statistics.
In 1995, Diana Irey Vaughan was the first woman elected Washington County commissioner.
In the same year, Katherine B. Emery was the second woman elected to the Washington County bench, and in January, she became the Washington County’s second female president judge. In 2012, Pam Snyder was the first woman to represent Washington and Greene county in the General Assembly. And last November, Camera Bartolotta became the first woman to represent Washington County in the state Senate.
Irey Vaughan revealed when she ran for state treasurer in 2012, she introduced herself to her opponent, Democratic incumbent Rob McCord. “He looked me up and down and said, ‘Now I know why my buddy said, ‘If this was a beauty contest, you’ll lose, Rob,’” commenting Irey Vaughn was “really pretty.” McCord won another term as treasurer, but pleaded guilty earlier this year in federal court to extortion in connection with his unsuccessful run for governor. He is awaiting sentencing.
Bartolotta said Republicans approached her in 2012 about running against Democratic state Rep. Peter Daley, but it was not long after her husband died from a four-year battle with lymphoma, and she declined.
The party again asked her to run two years later, this time, for state Senate. Her daughter, who was in college, came home from Ohio University and mentioned a sorority sister was going to be embarking on a mission trip.
Guatemala or Mexico sprang to Bartolotta’s mind as possible destinations, but she was shocked when she heard where the student was headed: Monessen.
“That was it for me,” said Bartolotta, a Monongahela resident. She announced a run which culminated in the defeat of state Sen. Tim Solobay, a Canonsburg Democrat.
Emery was a school board member, county solicitor and delegate to the 1992 Democratic National Convention which nominated Bill Clinton in his successful run for the White House. Sensing a sea-change in county government in 1995 as Frank Mascara departed for Congress, she thought of running for commissioner but instead focused on a judgeship.
“I turned 40 and became both a mother and a judge in a span of two months,” she told her audience. Emery encouraged women who are thinking of breaking into politics to run, as she did, for school board or try for a local appointed office such as membership on a zoning board.
Snyder warned that women in politics must develop a thick skin. “The social media makes it worse,” she said. “You know who it’s really hard on? My family. My husband, my kids” and even grandchildren. Facebook, Twitter and the online comment posts on local news stories can all bring out viciousness, she and Emery pointed out.
They also suggested that in this local election year, someone who might want to get her feet wet should volunteer for a campaign.
After the conclusion of the discussion, one audience member, Kelley Hoover Heckathorne, director of brokerage services for Burns & Scalo Real Estate Services Inc., Pittsburgh, said, “There are women in politics in Washington County, and I wanted to hear why and how they got into it. It empowers us. I think it was very inspiring.” Read More at www.observer-reporter.com