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What to do about a problem like Pat Meehan

PA’s 7th District is up for grabs—but not that kind of grabbing. Can we elect a woman, please?

PA’s 7th District is up for grabs—but not that kind of grabbing. Can we elect a woman, please?

The state of Pennsylvania has a grand total of zero female representatives in Congress. That’s…zero. Zilch, not even one. In fact, in the history of the state—which, after all, mirrors the history of our country—we have only ever sent seven women to Congress, the last of whom was Allyson Schwartz, who ended her nine year run as a state rep in 2014.

We have never had a female senator, or a female governor, or in Philadelphia a female mayor. And the state legislature? We have more women electeds in Harrisburg than ever before—which is still fewer than 19 percent of the statehouse. That makes Pennsylvania 49th in the country—just above Mississippi—for the number of women representatives in its capitol; it also puts us below the country of Afghanistan.

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Instead, we have Rep. Pat Meehan, from the 7th District in Delaware County. (And Chester. And Lancaster, thanks to gerrymandering.) He seemed, for a while there, to have our backs. A former U.S. Attorney, Meehan until this week was a member of the House Ethics Committee, tasked with investigating sexual misconduct claims against his colleagues. Except—oops!—he forgot to mention that he himself sexually harassed a young female employee, to whom he paid several thousand dollars last year to settle a complaint.

That’s several thousand dollars of taxpayer money, mind you.

And then, as if his behavior—first unearthed by The New York Times—wasn’t bad enough, the 62-year-old married father of three has spent the last several days claiming the aide “specifically invited” his advances; that she was his “soul mate;” and that he “didn’t do anything wrong.” Cue the head slapping, eye rolling, stomach churning and disgust.

Let’s just do what we should have been doing all along: Elect women.

Meehan said yesterday he will not seek reelection in what was already shaping up to be a tough race in PA’s 7th, which is likely to change boundaries now that the state Supreme Court has ordered Pennsylvania to redraw its districts. It is also possible that he will step down early, as some of his colleagues already have for similar infractions.

This might have been good news for Democratic State Sen. Daylin Leach, who until recently was considered the biggest threat to Meehan’s job. Except, of course, Leach himself late last year was accused of harassing former campaign and legislative staffers, and creating a hostile work environment. Leach—who skipped Wednesday’s mandatory sexual harassment training in Harrisburg—has since said he will not run for Meehan’s seat.

Thank goodness. If there’s one thing we don’t need these days it’s more elected officials “confused” by where the INCREDIBLY OBVIOUS lines are between good and bad behavior. Meehan, in particular, has become an object of national scorn for the ham-handed and so incredibly idiotic way he has handled the situation:

It’s baffling on so many levels, and not just because of the harassment itself. Isn’t it about time these guys learned that their behavior will (thankfully) be found out? Anyone out there who is an elected official, take a minute and think back to the last several years. Have you paid any sexual harassment claims? Has anyone sent you a letter complaining about your unwanted advances? Have you created a work environment that is in any way difficult, threatening or unfair to your female employees or colleagues?

Then do yourself, your constituents, your country and your victims a favor: Come clean. It won’t make your behavior any less awful, but it might keep the survivors of your creepiness from having their stories bandied about in the press for days and weeks—and might save you your job.

Better yet, let’s just do what we should have been doing all along: Elect women.

Could Meehan, and Leach, and Pres. Trump, and the state Supreme Court, and brave survivors and fired up female candidates actually create a groundswell of change? Could we “go from zero to many?”

And not just because women are (somehow! remarkably!) not overwhelmingly sexually harassing the people around them. Or because, like new City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart—the city’s highest elected woman—they are more inclined to address the issue of sexual harassment and women’s advancement.

But also because women are 50 percent of the population. Because they are often more willing to compromise, showboat less, and get shit done—and isn’t that what we all say we want? Because they care about issues that are important to the way people live—safety, healthcare, education.

We need more women in Pennsylvania like Democratic State Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky, also from Delaware County, who on Wednesday introduced in Harrisburg—itself a hotbed of harassment—her #MeToo Bill, which would create an Office of Compliance to investigate all sexual harassment claims in the statehouse. Krueger-Braneky has been working on the bill since October, talking to different stakeholders and to legislators across the country.

“The problem in Harrisburg is so big that we wanted to make sure we got the solutions right,” she says.

Under Krueger-Braneky’s proposed legislation, which has 56 co-sponsors—including 10 Republicans—the Office of Compliance would create one single place and process for Democrat and Republican staffers from both houses to file a harassment complaint, to take politics out of the equation. (Right now, each legislative body and party has a separate process.) The office would investigate accusations, and if found credible, would release a report with the name of the harasser, who would himself be personally liable for paying for any claims. It would also—for the first time!—define what sexual harassment is in the state of Pennsylvania.

“No longer will the citizens of the Commonwealth pay to silence victims of sexual harassment,” Krueger-Braneky said in December, when she announced her bill. “We will give harassers and predators pause about their behavior. No more secret lists shared among our staff and interns about which legislators to avoid taking the elevator with.“

Krueger-Braneky says she has no plans to run for Meehan’s seat. (“My work is not yet done in the statehouse,” she says.) But there are three women who have already put their hats in the ring: Shelly Chauncey, a 37-year-old former Central Intelligence Agency operative; Molly Sheehan, a 31-year-old bioengineer; and Elizabeth Moro, a 44-year-old realtor. (Two other male candidates are also vying for the Democratic nomination: IT professional Drew McGinty; and Dan Muroff, a former Philly ward leader who greeted news of Meehan’s misconduct with a stunt protest outside the Congressman’s office.)

Redistricting puts everything up in the air, so we should also put into the mix Chester County engineer and entrepreneur Chrissy Houlahan, who is running in what is now the 6th Congressional district. And in Lancaster’s 16th, there are two female candidates: Christina Hartman and Jess King.

None of these women has any political experience, though that is not necessarily a dealbreaker. And there is still time for others to join the race. Former Senate candidate Katie McGinty lives in what may or may not be Meehan’s constituency after redistricting; so does Diane Cornman-Levy, executive director of Women’s Way, who got the highest percentage of Democratic votes when she ran unsuccessfully for the 168th District.   

Electing even one of these candidates would mark a step forward for Pennsylvania, as it would mean the other half of the population is at least represented in our Washington delegation. But could Meehan, and Leach, and Pres. Trump, and the state Supreme Court, and brave survivors and fired up female candidates actually create a groundswell of change? Could we, as Krueger-Braneky puts it, “go from zero to many?”

Dare to dream, Pennsylvania. More than that: Dare to vote.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of children Molly Sheehan has. 

Photo via Flickr

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