Women Making History in Harrisburg

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) — Pennsylvania’s government has a long, rich history. In the Legislature, much of that history has been written by men- who’ve led both chambers for decades, until this year.

Philadelphia native, Rep. Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia/Delaware) was previously a public defender for ten years before she was introduced to Harrisburg when working for a state Senator.

“I was shocked to see, in the Senate, how few women there were and how little diversity there was at the time,” said McClinton.

Despite many telling her to pursue an open House seat in 2015, McClinton was skeptical to run… at first.

“It just was like, well, this wasn’t on my agenda. What if I lose? That will be embarrassing,” said McClinton. “But I’m so glad I rejected those initial thoughts and got past my hesitations,” she added.

Now, she is Pennsylvania’s first female Speaker of the House.

“You can be afraid, but do it anyway. Just because no woman has done it previously doesn’t mean that you cannot do it, does not mean that it’s out of reach,” said Speaker McClinton.

McClinton is not alone in her historic state government leadership role. On the other side of the Capitol, there is another history-making woman.

“Don’t let anybody tell you you can’t do it,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland).

Sen. Ward is the third-highest ranking government official in Pennsylvania. Her desire for public service stems from advocacy efforts with a close friend during the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

“We didn’t know what AIDS was, and he acquired it. It was a time like COVID, except even more hectic,” said Ward. “Kind of got a bug of ‘I think I’m going to like this, I like being able to make change, I like being able to help people,’” Ward added.

She says many were skeptical that she’d become the first woman to win Pennsylvania’s 39th Senatorial District seat.

“Because I was a woman, and because it was a very registered Democrat area. But I won,” said Ward.

Both Ward and McClinton hope the next generation of female leaders are encouraged by their leadership.

“You can do whatever it is you want to do,” said Ward.

“I’m hopeful that little girls from Erie to Philadelphia are able to see themselves in my leadership and recognize that no matter where they want to go in life, that they can do it,” said McClinton.

Although they may disagree politically, the two history-makers have a lot of respect for each other.

“She is intelligent, she is kind,” said Ward of McClinton. “One of the very first big baskets of flowers and plants I received after my mastectomy was from Speaker McClinton,” Ward, a breast cancer survivor, added.

“President Pro Temp Kim Ward has always had my respect- a very accessible, authentic and amazing woman leader,” said McClinton.


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