More women in office is cure for what ails politics
This feels like deja vu all over again, doesn't it, Yogi? We've definitely had this conversation before, way back in the 1970s. It involves everyone's favorite topic - women. Needless to say, I'm fer 'em, not 'agin 'em.
Around the third-quarter-century mark - when women started taking Helen Reddy's advice to heart and aspired to "roar" - the election of a woman here and a woman there gave hope to women everywhere (and some men) that persons of the female gender would soon assume a much deserved equal role in the hallowed halls of government.
Men did and are still doing a bang-up job of royally messing things up, so it stood to reason that with women in charge, things couldn't be much worse and just might wind up much better.
But it didn't turn out that way. Women haven't attained anything close to parity in elective office. Women may have come a long way, but there is still a surprising long way to go.
There's never been a woman president, although Hillary came close and we keep hearing that she's probably going to try again. Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin made history in their own parties and, in Palin's case, her own mind, but no woman has ever gotten anywhere close to being a heartbeat away from the Oval Office.
We've never had a woman governor here in the Keystone State. True, the late Catherine Baker Knoll was lieutenant governor, and that's nice - but how many people actually know at any given time who the lieutenant governor is?
We may have a woman governor soon - a big "may" - since U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz is now the odds-on favorite to be the Democratic candidate that gets to challenge Tom Corbett in 2014. When push comes to shove, however, many men may vote against her because she's a woman and, to be perfectly frank, some women will also vote against her for the same reason. ("Just who does she think she is, anyway?")
At this writing, there are only five women governors in the U.S. Only 78 women (less than 20 percent of the total membership) serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, and just 20 of 100 U.S. senators are female.
Pennsylvania ranks a dismal 39th in the nation in the percentage of female members in the state legislature. There are just 36 women state House members out of 203, and only eight of 50 senators. Of course, there would be one more woman in the Senate and one more woman on the state Supreme Court if those redoubtable Orie sisters hadn't run afoul of the law.
Democrats like to brag that they are the party of inclusion, but the fact is, the Northumberland County Republican Party has far outpaced the Democrats in recognizing and rewarding deserving women. Peggy Flowers, of Mount Carmel, was a nominee for commissioner in 1987; Lynda Schlegel Culver is the sitting state representative in the 108th district, and there are two female county officeholders (Mary Zimmerman, the register and record, and Kathleen Wolfe Strausser, the prothonotary). There have been at least three Republican chairwomen over the years, including the current chairperson, Beth Kremer.
But talk about a glass ceiling! Northumberland County has never had an elected woman commissioner (Eleanor Kuhns was appointed). Not only has the county never had a female judge or district attorney, no women have ever even aspired to these offices.
Shamokin and Mount Carmel Borough have never had female mayors. This is in contrast to the enlightened voters of two smaller communities who chose female chief executives - Bernie Witowski in Marion Heights and Anne Marie Devine in Centralia. In fact, at one point, Centralia had an all-woman borough council. Right now, there are no female board or council members in any local municipalities except Kulpmont. In the upcoming primary, there are only seven female candidates for mayor, borough or city councils or township boards in all of eastern Northumberland County.
One office where women have been much in evidence, of course, has been school director. Each local school board has at least one female member, but it seems there are much fewer female directors than in years past.
One office that is fertile ground for females is municipal tax collector. In 20 of the county's 36 municipalities, women are running unopposed for that office in the primary. Good for them! But in addition to being entrusted with collecting and depositing public money, women should assume a larger role in deciding how it's spent.
It's one thing for a woman to avoid politics because of a lack of interest or a shortage of time. It's another for women to reject the possibility of ever seeking elective office, even at the community level, because males still treat politics like an exclusive boys' club. If that's so - and I suspect it is - shame on us of the Y-chromosomed persuasion.
I reject the idea that the reason women don't throw their hats in the ring is because women no longer wear hats.
(Jake Betz is an assistant editor at The News-Item.)