Voices & Choices

Pennsylvania Will Have an Open House Seat in 2016, Chance to Break All-Male Delegation

Pennsylvania Will Have an Open House Seat in 2016, Chance to Break All-Male Delegation
Pennsylvania has the largest all-male delegation in Congress, a total of 18 male House members and 2 male Senators. But the state may soon have the opportunity to send a woman to Congress with the opening of a House seat in 2016.

Rep. Michael G. Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), serving the state's 8th District, has announced that his term in the 114th U.S. Congress will be his last. Several candidates have already expressed interest in running for Rep. Fitzpatrick's open seat in 2016, including state Rep. Steve Santarsiero (D) and Shaughnessy Naughton, a chemist who narrowly lost the Democratic nomination in the 2014 primary.

On the Republican side, there are also several possible candidates, including outgoing Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, Robert Loughery, and state Rep. Scott Petri, or even trying to get Rep. Fitzpatrick to consider holding onto his seat. Unfortunately the number of women expressing interest or being considered as prospects remains low, both for Democrats and Republicans. 

Pennsylvania consistently has fallen short on the number of women in elected office. After Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D) gave up her U.S. House seat to run for governor (later losing in the primary to the now Governor-elect Tom Schwartz), Pennsylvania lost its only female delegate in Congress. It remains the most populous state in the country to have an all-male delegation in Congress and a male governor.

According to FairVote's Representation 2020, Pennsylvania lags behind most states in women's representation. The project's annually produced report, The State of Women's Representation includes a Gender Parity Index, which assigns states a score based on women's representation in local, statewide, and national elected offices. Pennsylvania ranked 46th in the Gender Parity Index of 2013-14, receiving a low score of 9, out of the 100 possible points with 50 points indicating gender parity. In the soon-to-be released Gender Parity Index of 2015, Pennsylvania ranks 45th with a score of 10 points, but still falls far from gender parity.

With an open seat, Pennsylvania has an opportunity to improve its women's representation. Key political players, such as party leaders, funders, and gatekeepers, ought to take a firm stance on recruiting women candidates, publicly stating they will preference strong women candidates when offering support and endorsements.

Furthermore, Representation 2020 finds that states can improve their Gender Parity scores by pursuing structural reforms to electoral systems and by adopting legislative practices that benefit women. These reforms may be more feasible in local and statewide offices, which are important pipelines for prospective candidates for U.S. House and Senate seats.

States with no women among their U.S. Congressional delegations:
  • Arkansas: 0/6
  • Deleware: 0/3
  • Georgia: 0/16
  • Idaho: 0/4
  • Kentucky: 0/8
  • Louisiana: 0/8
  • Mississippi: 0/6
  • Montana: 0/3
  • Oklahoma: 0/7
  • Rhode Island: 0/4
  • South Carolina: 0/9
  • Vermont: 0/3
FairVote's Representation 2020 is a project seeking to draw attention to the structural barriers limiting the number of women in elected office. For more information, visit www.representation2020.com.

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