Women Forward: Pennsylvania, Delaware lawmakers are making history

Women made history in both the Pennsylvania and Delaware state legislatures following the 2020 election.

Democratic State Representative Joanna McClinton of Pennsylvania had no idea she would be one of them. But when longtime Minority Leader State Representative Frank Dermody lost re-election, McClinton's colleagues in the State House urged her to run for his leadership position.

"I did not go into the election thinking, 'Oh I'm going to be running for leader,'" said McClinton who has served the Southwest Philadelphia District where she grew up for six years.

"They were kind of like, 'You got to try. If not, how long will it be for women to have an opportunity to move up to this spot in Harrisburg?'" she said.

McClinton won, becoming the first African-American woman to ever hold the position in Pennsylvania.

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Hours before McClinton's leadership election, the Pennsylvania State Senate also made history electing State Senator Kim Ward, a Republican, as Majority Leader position. She is the first woman to hold that position.

Also making headlines this year is Sarah McBride of Delaware.

McBride became the first transgender person elected to the state Senate. Like McClinton, she is also serving the community where she was raised.

"Growing up, it would've been life-changing to see someone like me running for public office," said McBride.

McBride began advocating for LGBTQ rights at a young age. She segued into politics after working on Beau Biden's campaigns. She then went to work for the Human Rights Campaign.

During this Women's History Month, McBride says she's able to reflect on the country's progress when it comes to inclusion.

"We look back to the early days of the fight for voting rights for women, and in many ways it focused just on white women. Over time, the coalition and the movement grew to include women of color, and then moving forward, you would see that movement including gay women. Now it includes women of all different backgrounds including trans women and women with disabilities," she said.

Both lawmakers say they do feel that by being firsts in their field, there is added pressure.

"One of the things I made clear throughout the campaign was that I wasn't running to serve as a transgender state senator. I was running as a state senator to fight for my constituents," said McBride. "I was fighting for health care and paid family medical leave, good schools, and a safe community where we are all treated with dignity."

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McClinton says she came to Harrisburg with a to-do list from her constituents. She has brought to the table legislation that reflects her constituent's needs but also issues that she brings from her own background.

Raising the minimum wage is something important to McClinton, who worked her way through college and law school as a waitress.

She is also proud of her work on the Clean Slate Law, which makes it easier for certain Pennsylvanians to have criminal records automatically sealed from the public.

McClinton says working as a public defender opened her eyes to how important that law is for many Pennsylvanians.

"You have to build a coalition of support. One might think I'm going to get up there and give a great speech and people are going to want to get up on this bill. It doesn't work like that," she said.

McClinton's hope is that the road she is paving allows diversity to continue to thrive in government.

"It won't be as tough for the next woman. I had to go through a lot of challenges that another woman hasn't faced because I'm the first," she said.

McBride agreed.

"My hope in 10 years is that diversity in public office is no longer newsworthy; that it's a given," she said.
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