By Mackenzie Carpenter
September 24, 2011
As Pennsylvania prepares to redraw its legislative map, former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman issued a warning Friday: Don’t end up like New Jersey.
Women legislators in that state lost ground, she noted, after New Jersey officials redrew districts that, deliberately or not, favored districts with male incumbents.
“I don’t know that there was a strategy there, but there was no looking for gender balance. You need to have a voice there to watch out for those kinds of interests,” said Ms. Whitman, the keynote speaker at an inaugural conference sponsored by Chatham College’s Pennsylvania Center for Women in Politics.
The conference was the kickoff for the Pennsylvania 2012 Project in Western Pennsylvania, which aims to increase the number of women in politics, and included an expert panel discussion on redistricting.
Ms. Whitman, the 2011 Elsie Hillman Chair in Women and Politics, also told the group that “women still need to get comfortable with the idea that today’s solutions to problems need the expertise of people with different priorities, different life experiences. No one group has all the right answers.”
New Jersey, however, has dramatically improved its standing compared with other states, she said, in the number of women representatives at the state capitol, moving to 12th from 46th.
That was in large part thanks to efforts spearheaded by the Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics, which focused on recruiting and training women candidates.
Despite similar efforts in Pennsylvania, the state ranks 42nd in the number of women in the state Legislature and has been languishing at that level since 1975, when statistics started being recorded.
A five-member panel, comprising four male legislative leaders and a male former state Superior Court justice, is currently redrawing state legislative boundaries in the Keystone State — 203 House districts and the 50 Senate districts — as required by law every 10 years.
Allegheny County’s population dropped 4.6 percent from 2000 to 2010, while the state population increased by 3.4 percent, which means that the area will probably lose a legislative seat.
Ms. Whitman, who heads a consulting firm specializing in energy and environmental issues, was New Jersey’s first woman governor from 1994 until 2001.