Record Breaking Number of Women now in House Democratic Caucus and Increasingly in Leadership Roles
HARRISBURG, Jan. 10 – Pennsylvania House Democrats start the 2019-20 session with more women than ever before in their ranks and with women holding key leadership roles, including Rep. Margo Davidson chairing the 33-member Southeast Delegation and Rep. Joanna McClinton and Rep. Rosita Youngblood being elected as the Democratic Caucus Chair and Secretary respectively. These advances are built on the historic gains made in recent elections and demonstrate House Democrats’ commitment to inclusiveness and respect for the will of the voters.
Rep. Frank Dermody, the Democratic leader, and Davidson and Rep. Tina Davis, co-chairs of the House Democratic Women’s Caucus, said the 29 Democratic women now serving in the House are a vital source of strength and leadership for the Democratic Caucus.
“When I entered the House there were only about eight women in our caucus. We’ve worked incredibly hard to change that and today, that number is 29 and represents a 38 percent increase from last term alone,” said Davidson who represents Delaware County and also serves as the co-chair of the bipartisan Ladies of the House Caucus. “While we are disappointed that there are no current female chairs, we understand the rules of the House and we are confident that many female legislators will be given the opportunity to serve as both vice chairs and subcommittee chairs during this session. These positions have also been historically male due to the lack of gender diversity in the Pennsylvania legislature and that also represents some positive change.”
“As the Democratic Caucus continues to advance its innovative policy agenda, the Plan For Pennsylvania, the women in our caucus are important contributors at every step of the process,” said Davis of Bucks County, who also was recently named a deputy whip. She noted that more than half of the 40 lawmakers who joined the Democratic Caucus since 2015 are women and continued, “While most of our predecessors retired or sought higher office, women like me, Margo Davidson and Pam DeLissio who were elected in 2010 are poised to take on committee chair roles soon. There are no more men ahead of the three of us in seniority.”
While McClinton is now the Democratic Caucus chair, Rosita Youngblood the Democratic Caucus secretary, and five Democratic women serve as assistant or deputy whips, the still relatively low seniority of most of the Democratic women legislators has resulted in a lack of women chairing standing committees. That’s due to a House rule put in place two decades ago to offset arbitrary and unfair assignments of chairman based on the whim of party leadership.
Dermody explained the bipartisan House rule requires that the longest-serving members of both the Republican and Democratic caucuses be named to chair the 23 committees.
“Right now most of the senior members of our caucus are men and the House rules provide no discretion to move anyone up in line,” Dermody said. “I certainly understand why questions might arise. The composition of our leadership team and our committee chairs matters. It’s important that we reflect the entire state of Pennsylvania, and I’m confident that our Democratic Caucus does that well.”
Dermody said that the Pennsylvania legislature as a whole improved its national ranking for women members by five spots to 34th this year according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics.
He also noted that, with 29 women, Pennsylvania House Democrats have the 11th highest number of women among caucuses in all 50 states.
“The strength of our Democratic Caucus comes from its diversity and that certainly includes gender diversity,” Dermody said.