PA Women Poised to Make History in Congressional Delegation After Primary Victories

KEYSTONE CROSSROADS – Eight women running for congress in Pennsylvania advanced to the general election ballot on Tuesday, setting a record for the state.

For the past few years, only men have been in Pennsylvania’s 18 member congressional delegation in Washington, D.C.  But after Tuesday’s primary, that’s almost guaranteed to change in 2019.

In its history, Pennsylvania has only elected seven women to the U.S. House of Representatives — ever. Three of those women won special elections to fill vacancies left by their husbands.

No woman in Pennsylvania has ever been elected to the U.S. Senate, or to the Governor’s office.

“This is more than a little overwhelming,” said Mary Gay Scanlon, a Democrat, in her victory speech on Tuesday night. She’s running in the newly drawn 5th congressional district comprised of mostly Delaware County and parts of South Philadelphia.

Scanlon recounted a story from the 2016 election in her speech.

“A year and a half ago, my daughter and I donned pantsuits to go to the polls and vote for what we hoped would be the first woman president — a celebration we believed was long overdue,” said Scanlon. “And, like most of you, we were shocked by the election to our country’s highest office of a man who had no record or seeming inclination for public service.”

Scanlon, an attorney who leads the pro-bono program at Philadelphia’s Ballard Spahr law firm, beat out a crowded primary field that included five other women. Her only experience in public office was on Delaware County’s Wallingford-Swarthmore School Board.

In November, she’ll face Pearl Kim, a former special victims prosecutor in Delaware County, and the only Republican woman congressional candidate on the ballot in the state.

Having two women go head-to-head in a congressional race is a first for Pennsylvania, and Scanlon says she’s thrilled.

“We’ve made it possible for this new district for the first time to be represented by a Democrat in congress and to be represented by a woman in congress,” she said.

Kim did not return requests for comment.

Why so low?

To understand why Pennsylvania currently lacks women representatives in Congress, you may only have to look at the state’s lower-level offices.

Pennsylvania’s three row offices — Treasurer, Attorney General and Auditor General — are each currently occupied by men.

And in the current legislative session of the General Assembly, women make up 14 percent of members in the State Senate and about 20 percent in the State House. Nationally, that puts Pennsylvania 38th among states when it comes to women in state legislatures.

Dr. Jennie Sweet-Cushman, assistant director of the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics, says this matters.

Typically, Sweet-Cushman says, women feel they need to get their feet wet in politics and work their way up before jumping into a congressional race.


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