Governor post eludes women in Pennsylvania
The first woman to run for governor in Pennsylvania knew she had no shot at victory. And she'd been mired in scandal.
Jennifer Wesner, 80, of Knox in Clarion County was the borough's mayor in the early 1970s. Then a photographer leaked risque photos of Wesner to national tabloids, from her days as a topless model a decade earlier. Though mortified, Wesner went on to run four campaigns for higher office.
She dove into philanthropy and authored a book on her experiences.
“I would keep running for office, and that's how I'd get known,” she said. “I became something; I became somebody.”
Wesner's name has a place in history as the first of seven women to run for governor in Pennsylvania, one of two dozen states where voters never have elected a woman to the office. U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz of Philadelphia and Katie McGinty, a former environmental administrator in state government, lost the Democratic primary on Tuesday to Tom Wolf, a millionaire businessman from York County.
Adrienne Kimmell, executive director of Barbara Lee Family Foundation, which encourages female leadership in politics, said just 35 women governors have served in the nation's history; five are in office. To Kimmell and other female-candidate advocates, this poses a policy problem.
“When women are at the table, their unique life experiences are being represented,” she said. “It's not about whether they're there just because of their gender.”
Dana Brown, executive director at the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics at Chatham University, said the primary election was “a mixed bag with a negative outlook” for female candidates. In addition to postponing the possibility of a woman governor until at least 2018, Schwartz's loss means that when her term in Congress ends, Pennsylvania's delegation will be all-male — unless one of six female challengers overtakes an incumbent. Women have 99, or 18.5 percent, of the 535 seats in the U.S. Congress, according the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers.
Inside the statehouse, Pennsylvania ranks 38th in the nation among legislative bodies for the percentage of women elected at 17.8 percent, a figure unlikely to change. Thirteen women ran in 25 state Senate races; nine won. Eighty-one women made bids for the state House, where all 203 seats were up, and 64 will continue to campaign for the general election.
If all of them are elected, Pennsylvania's legislature would be 22.8 percent female. But, as Brown observed, that is highly unlikely.
“We didn't have parity with women candidates to begin with in the primary election,” she said. “Now, the pool is further narrowed for the general election.”
The microscope of a campaign can pose a barrier to female candidates, Kimmell said. Mentions of female candidates' appearance cause voters to view them negatively, whereas mentions of a man's appearance have no effect, she said.
“Voters look at women candidates more critically than they do men,” she said. “That can be a roadblock.”
State Rep. Deberah Kula, 65, a Democrat from North Union, was the first female state lawmaker from Fayette County in 2006. This year, she won the primary for the 32nd District senatorial seat.
Kula said she does not think voters should choose her because of her gender — though female elected officials bring different skills to the job, she said.
“Going in and building up credibility and having people listen to your views has been a great benefit,” she said. “Women are especially able to do that in a quiet, respectful, forceful way.”
Throughout her campaign, Schwartz vowed to shatter the gubernatorial glass ceiling with a change of culture in Harrisburg, lamenting the place as an “old boy's club.” Upon her distant second-place finish to Wolf, she did so once more.
“The political pundits, the media, the Harrisburg establishment couldn't believe a woman could serve as governor, couldn't even imagine it,” Schwartz said in her concession speech to supporters in Philadelphia.
Schwartz or McGinty would not have been the first female governor to serve had either been elected. Hannah Penn, in the early 18th century, held the office for six years when her husband and the commonwealth's founder, William Penn, had a stroke.
Wesner hopes someday Pennsylvania will elect a female governor. And she'd like to see former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton win the presidency in 2016. She advises persistence to candidates.
“Stay in there and keep moving forward, keep moving ahead,” she said. “We'll eventually have a lot of women in politics — very, very powerful women — but they can't give up.”
Melissa Daniels is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8511 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- No tag for Worilds; Steelers cut Moore
- Penguins GM Rutherford not counting on Dupuis’ return
- Penguins acquire defensemen Lovejoy, Cole in deadline deals
- North Huntingdon man accused of road rage altercation in Westmoreland
- Reputed major heroin trafficker in Westmoreland County pleads guilty, gets prison sentence
- Zoning update raises fears in Ligonier Township
- ‘Time for bold change,’ Wolf says in outlining $30B state budget
- ‘Let It Snow’s’ big-name cast filming all over Western Pennsylvania
- Pirates sickened by pic of ‘Jihadi John’ wearing Bucs ball cap
- Interstate smash-and-grab jewelry ring may be operating in Pittsburgh area, Altoona
- Inmate care in Allegheny County Jail generates worries