Trump’s America: More Pennsylvania women want to run for office

Emerge Pennsylvania says applications have more than doubled since Trump was elected.

Katie McGinty

Katie McGinty

Jasmine Goldband / The Incline
Sarah Anne Hughes

It was not a good Election Day for Pennsylvania voters who want more women in public office.

Near the top of the ticket, Katie McGinty lost to incumbent Sen. Pat Toomey by a percentage point. According to exit-poll data from the Center for American Women and Politics, 54 percent of women voted for McGinty, while just 40 percent of men did.

Five female candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives all lost, meaning Pennsylvania still has an all-male Congressional delegation.

The numbers aren’t much better in the state house: Before Election Day, just 47 of the 253 members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly were women. More than a dozen female candidates challenged incumbent representatives on the general ballot and lost.

Emerge America launched in 2002 to help Democratic women run for public office by offering training and the support of a network of other women with similar goals. There are chapters in 16 states, including in Pennsylvania since December 2015.

Nationwide, Emerge America said 146 of the 213 women who went through its training won their races on Election Day — a nearly 69 percent success rate.

But of the five Philadelphia-area women who went through Emerge Pennsylvania’s training and appeared on the ballot this month, four lost. Provisional ballots are still being counted in a close race between West Chester Mayor Carolyn Comitta and state Rep. Dan Truitt, who was ahead by fewer than 100 votes on Election Day.

“It was a difficult night for women in Pennsylvania,” Emerge Pennsylvania Executive Director Anne Wakabayashi said. “We still have a lot of work to do in the state.”

But a disappointing election night for Emerge Pennsylvania and Democratic women in Pennsylvania has had an upside: Wakabayashi said there’s been a surge in applications, from 30 before the election to 78 in the few days since.

Those accepted will go through 70 hours of training over several months, with an emphasis on public speaking, messaging, fundraising and communications. More than 20 women were accepted as part of Emerge Pennsylvania’s first class in 2016, including several from Pittsburgh. 

“We’re able to talk about [running] in ways that are specific to women,” Wakabayashi said.

Emerge Pennsylvania, which is based in Philly, can also offer these women an “incredibly supportive and inclusive” network of alumnae.

“It sounds like it’s kind of touchy feely,” she said. “It really does make a difference to the way politics runs in the state.”

The dearth of Pennsylvania women in public office also makes a “huge” difference in how the state government operates, Wakabayashi said.

“People aren’t seeing themselves in government,” she said. In the state legislature, “you’re not going to see the needs of the other gender represented.”

Local politicians are also taking a hard look at gender equity in government.

Pittsburgh Councilmember Natalia Rudiak has introduced legislation to adopt the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women in order to support “equity between women and men in the workplace, city services, public safety and all elements of the city government and services,” her office said in a press releaseHer bill would also create a Gender Equity Commission to examine how gender affects city services, economic development, education and violence.

Rudiak is scheduled to speak about the bill at the City-County Building this morning.

Despite the outcome, Wakabayashi said she’s proud of the Emerge Pennsylvania women who ran. “All of our women ran incredible strong races,” she said.

Wakabayashi said it’s hard for challengers to win state races. And despite the losses for women at the top and bottom of the ballot, she pointed out that three Democrat men comfortably won the races for state row offices — incumbent Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, Attorney General-elect Josh Shapiro and Treasurer-elect Joe Torsella.

She’s not exactly sure what it means — sexism, maybe? — but thinks it’s worth further examination.

“We’re dedicated to plugging along,” she said. “We’re pretty hopeful that 2018 and 2020 will be better years.”

Applications to join Emerge Pennsylvania’s 2017 class are due today. But Wakabayashi said women who are interested should still reach out.

“We’d love to get them involved and started down the road for public service,” she said. That means getting women “into the pipeline” of government through municipal office or school boards.

The increased interest from women in running for public office is happening “across the country,” Wakabayashi said.

“Women are mobilizing.”