The criminal charges against Kathleen Kane are unlikely to stall the success of other women candidates, but it does hurt, politicians say.
“I hate to see public officials do things that violate the public trust because it looks bad for everyone. Bonusgate affected all of us, even though it was all men. We were all affected equally,” said Bev Mackereth, a former House Republican from York County and previous Department of Human Services secretary.
She is now a senior government affairs specialist for the Ridge Policy Group.
Sen. Pat Vance, R-Cumberland, is hoping Mackereth is right and Kane’s crisis doesn’t specifically reflect poorly on women.
“I felt very badly when she was charged, even though we’re not in the same political party, because it’s such a blow to women,” she said.
While Vance, who has held elected office for nearly 40 years, said the quality of a candidate matters more than gender, she agreed that men in politics often are viewed differently than women.
“Maybe because there are so few of us,” Vance said.
“There are a lot of very good people in public service. Unfortunately, the good ones don’t always make headlines,” she added.
If there’s an unfair spotlight on women in politics, it could be because there are so few women in politics – especially in Pennsylvania, according to Dana Brown, executive director at the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics.
The state has never sent a woman to represent Pennsylvania in the U.S. Senate, and there are no women among the 20 people who represent the state in the congressional delegation.
Just 45 women sit among the 253 elected officials in the state Legislature, though 52 percent of the voters are women.
The state has never elected a woman governor, and the late Catherine Baker Knollwas the only woman to serve as lieutenant governor.
Kane is the only woman who holds a statewide elected office, other than judges.
For the Pennsylvania attorney general to rebound from this political scandal, she has to first avoid conviction, said Kelly Dittmar, a scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics and assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University – Camden.
“Politics is still a man’s world. Breaking through is not easy for women, especially when a scandal hurts a woman’s stereotypical advantage,” she said.
That advantage is trust and integrity. Women candidates are assumed to be more trustworthy than men, and voters think twice when that trust is broken.
Research shows ethics and likability matter more for women than men, according to Dittmar.