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S. Navy veteran and former prosecutor from Upper St.
Clair whose priorities include property tax breaks for seniors, expanding benefits for veterans and combating the opioid crisis.
Though perched on opposite sides of the political aisle, the newly elected state lawmakers share at least a few things in common: They’re women under 40, are new to public office and are replacing multi-term male legislators in Harrisburg.
Their victories Tuesday night add to an influx of female state lawmakers from both parties who won election or re-election, resulting in the highest number of women holding state office in Pennsylvania to date.
John Maher in the 40th District. “As I look around the General Assembly, a few years ago when I first got the bug to run, I didn’t feel it was representative of the community.
“I don’t know that’s how you get the best legislation.”
Williams, whose razor-thin victory in the 38th Senate District over Republican Jeremy Shaffer, a Ross Township commissioner, came down to just 549 votes, said that increasing women’s involvement in politics benefits the populace as a whole: “Bringing different perspectives to the table just makes our democracy better,” she said.
Randy Vulakovich, R-Shaler, ousted by Shaffer in the May primary. “It’s an incredible feeling, the women across the state and, specifically, here in southwestern Pennsylvania, got to know each other well and all worked so incredibly hard on their races.
Based on unofficial results from Tuesday’s election, the state House next year will have at least 50 women, up from 42, and the state Senate will have 12 women, up from seven, with figures subject to fluctuate amid some still-contested races.
Pennsylvania also is sending a record-high four U.
S. congresswomen, all Democrats from the suburbs of Philadelphia, to Washington.
“What’s been happening is that women seem to have a sense of urgency, and they’re stepping up to do something about it and not waiting their turn from the old boys’ clubs,” said Amanda Hunter, spokeswoman for the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, a Cambridge, Mass.-based nonpartisan organization that aims to increase the representation of women at all levels of politics.
“You can’t be what you can’t see, and we found that in states where there have been women governors, like New Hampshire, it’s easier for voters to imagine a woman doing the job, and they may be more likely to support a women moving forward,” Hunter said.
Gender-based barriers persist
In 2019, the state House and Senate will include 63 female lawmakers, or 24.5 percent of the 253-member General Assembly.
“Men can simply list their jobs they’ve held like positions on a resume, and women have to prove their accomplishments, they have to use action-oriented language to explain what they actually have done and why that makes them qualified for the job.”
The need to attract high-level donors to win competitive races is why gender equity ne to happen outside of politics, too, meaning getting more women into leadership roles in trade groups, corporations and the boards who control them, Hunter said. She pointed to research demonstrating that women who seek office tend to excel at consensus-building and may be less driven by fame and fortune than some men.
The mother of three young children was dismayed to be confronted with what felt more like a 1950s-era question: How would she handle being a lawmaker AND a mom?
“It’s a little insulting to my husband, who’s perfectly capable of taking care of his own children,” said Mihalek, noting she and her husband share household duties and caring for their children, ages 7, 5 and 2, “and it’s hard for many working moms. It’s hard for stay-at-home moms.
Being a mom is hard, but it is a juggling act and that’s not really any different from being a lawyer and a mom.”
Cultivating the next generation of lawmakers
Williams, who’s spent 10 years doing legislative advocacy work, said that she, too, brings a fresh perspective and valuable input as a single woman without kids. The female candidates she’s helped to support all are “women who are leaders in their communities who are doing all sorts of good.
Williams was among eight candidates to win Tuesday who graduated from Emerge Pennsylvania, a six-month course aimed at getting more Democratic women into political office. Seven of them flipped districts from red to blue.
“We know that party tends to outweigh gender when voters make decisions,” Hunter said.
Women who ran and lost their bids Tuesday should avoid getting too discouraged, Hunter said. New research published by the Barbara Lee Family Foundation this week observed voter perception deviating from prior years when women who lost elections often were “blamed for their loss and had a difficult time shaking that reputation.
“Our research shows that voters still rate losing women candidates favorably and believe that they are qualified to run for office again,” Hunter said. “The next steps for a woman candidate who loses her election are critical.
According to voters, successful repeat candidates will stay engaged in public life by continuing to hold a political office, conducting a listening tour, taking a role in her political party, helping other women run for office or serving on a commission.”
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