History made this week in Pennsylvania: “It’s time for more women in government, period” | Spanlish

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Friday, May 18, 2018

History made this week in Pennsylvania: “It’s time for more women in government, period”

Tuesday was a historic night for women -- definitely in Pennsylvania, and quite likely in America.

At least seven women won Democratic primaries in a state with a congressional delegation that currently consists of 20 men. Although there were also important primaries this week in states like Nebraska and Idaho, Pennsylvania made the biggest news. It's the sixth-largest state in the U.S. by population and is now seen as a crucial swing state after being narrowly carried by Donald Trump in 2016. (It had voted Democratic in the six presidential elections before that, clear back to 1992.)

Did the memory of Trump's victory — and, more specifically, the fact that it occurred at the expense of Hillary Clinton, who was widely expected to become America's first female president — play a role in the victories achieved by so many female candidates? It could certainly explain why a record number of women are running for office as well as why so many of them have achieved success in their electoral bids.

"I don't think it's just the November 2016 election," Susan Wild, who won a heated Democratic primary in Pennsylvania's 7th congressional district on Tuesday, told Salon. "It's also the #MeToo movement . . . It may even be more about the #MeToo movement than the November 2016 election. I don't know; I can't get into people's heads and why they voted the way they did. But I do think there was an overwhelming sense of 'Enough – I've had it with this, and I'm tired of being a second-class citizen.'"

Wild's thoughts were echoed by Madeleine Dean, who won the Democratic primary to run in the 4th congressional district.

"It's historic, certainly, for the chance for women to rejoin the delegation," Dean told Salon, referring to former Rep. Allyson Schwartz, a Democrat who left Congress in 2015. "So I am just extremely excited. I'm excited for this wave of nominations for women, and I'm excited that we're going to change, I hope, the diversity of our delegation this November with the elections." The combination of women's success and Pennsylvania's court-mandated redistricting, which will likely help Democrats, makes this "a fantastic, historic time," she said

Earlier this year, Pennsylvania's Supreme Court redrew the state's congressional district maps to offset the effects of partisan gerrymandering that had locked in a semi-permanent Republican majority, even in elections where Democrats won more votes. As a result of the redrawn maps, districts like Pennsylvania's 7th now represent a single, cohesive region — in the case of the 7th, the Lehigh Valley — instead of being scattered all over the place.

Yet this election was not just about stopping a particular form of political corruption. As Wild observed, those who are dissatisfied with the state of affairs in Washington may look to women because they believe it is time for men to no longer have a solid lock on the levers of power.

"I will tell you that that was the message that I heard loudly from not just women across this district — a lot of women, clearly — but I can't tell you how many men actually reached out to me along the way and said, 'I just think it's time for more women in government, period,'" Wild told Salon. "Not just the record-breaking woman from the 7th or from the Lehigh Valley, but also, just in general, this concept of, 'If we had more women in government, maybe things would work differently and better.' And nobody's talking about a takeover by women, just parity.

"I just think that women have a different set of problem-solving skills than men do, and I think that it would be very helpful to have more of us in government across the country because I just think that things would function better," she continued. "That is certainly not meant disrespectfully to men. I think men and women working together can get a lot more done than just men alone."

As Hillary Clinton and her supporters certainly discovered in 2016, women in politics inevitably encounter ugly sexist attitudes. This week's victorious women in Pennsylvania report the same thing. Mary Gay Scanlon, who won the Democratic primary in Pennsylvania's 5th congressional district, told Salon her "very kind staff" had shielded her from some of the worst comments.

"I know there were emails," Scanlon said. "There were texts in response to some of our messaging. Comments about appearance. Comments about makeup, clothing. I think most women in public life experience that." Scanlon also said she made a deliberate choice to use her last name rather than her first name as the primary marker for her political brand to avoid playing into cultural sexism.

"There's been an interesting discussion the last couple days about whether female candidates are referred to by their first names more than male candidates are," she said. "When we were framing the campaign, we decided to avoid first-name references and focus on last names because we didn't want that overarching message of diminishing."

Another detail that makes women's success this week in Pennsylvania so remarkable is that it seemed to have little to do with ideology. Wild, for instance, identifies as progressive, but made it clear that she plans to run against her Republican opponent, Marty Nothstein, by claiming the middle ground and explaining to voters that he is "way too extreme for this district."

The Lehigh Valley is currently represented by Rep. Charlie Dent, a retiring Republican who has been known for his willingness to work across the aisle (and has sometimes criticized President Trump). Neither Nothstein nor his primary opponent were "reasonable, middle-of-the-road Republicans," Wild said. "And this district is not an extreme district by any stretch of the imagination. Nobody can win this district by staking out hard left or hard right positions."

As Madeleine Dean of the 4th district put it, there are a lot of issues that impact women, which she hopes to address in Congress without regard to ideology.

"I would continue to advocate for and champion issues related to women, whether it is . . . pay equity, family leave or elevating wages -- because we know that the minimum wage disproportionately affects women and people of color," Dean told Salon. "I'd just continue to be an advocate for women in the areas that I think matter."

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