"We want to create a pool of women who are ready and willing to run for office and have the skills to do so," says Allyson Lowe, executive director of the Pennsylvania Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy at Chatham College. Founded in 1998, the center began focusing in 2003 on increasing women's participation in politics. Later this month the center is hosting a campaign workshop for women, sponsored by the Pennsylvania Center for Women's Campaign Fund, a political action committee based in Lewisburg, Pa., that has sponsored similar programs across the state for the past 15 years. The bipartisan workshop will feature a campaign simulation, plus the testing and critique of participants by two Washington, D.C. political consultants: Diane Cromer, owner of Diane Cromer Enterprises and manager of more than 120 campaigns internationally, and Betsy Crone, one of the founders of Emily's List and a Chatham grad.
Pennsylvania's meager representation of women in legislature has crept up from 47th lowest to 44th. "We are appearing to progress at the expense of other states losing the few women they have in office," Lowe says.
Political parties usually look to certain professions to find candidates -- CEOs and lawyers -- and those fields tend to be male-dominated, adds Lowe. And women are too often unsure if they have what it takes to run for office, or are unsure of what it does take. However, she says, "Women candidates are more apt to research and prepare and do their homework before they run." And when women are in office, she says, the scope of what's on the legislative agenda is broadened, and non-gender-specific issues such as health care, crime and economic development are explored more deeply.
The workshop, targeted at women considering running for local office or working on a campaign in the next year or two, will address nuts-and-bolts aspects of campaigning, such as creating and maintaining a specific message, fund-raising, cultivating a staff of volunteers and making party connections.
Keynote speaker Barbara Hafer, the former state treasurer and Allegheny County commissioner, highlights the bipartisan nature of the workshop, having switched parties twice in her career, from the Democratic to the Republican party in 1975 and back again in 2003.
The Chatham center has done outreach all over western Pennsylvania, seeking women for the conference and beyond, says Lowe: "We've tried to reach into all types of communities: minority women, women in professions that aren't normally tapped [and] women of different ages -- particularly younger women."
July 21-23; see www.pawcf.com.