Break Up Old Boys’ Network

January 6, 2018 GMT

The House Democratic caucus’ use of public funds as hush money to protect legislators from the public fallout of sexual abuse allegations is all the more shocking because it illustrates the survival of a poisonous culture that already had been exposed in several ways. Due to former state Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s own transgressions while in office, few people listened when she claimed to be the victim of an “old boys” network that was determined to bring her down. She released a truckload of emails that had been distributed across much of that network, including the highest levels of the state judiciary and law enforcement, driving the scandal that came to be known as “Porngate.” The emails included pornographic and accompanying text among state employees dripping with misogyny and racism. It eventually forced the resignation or early retirements of a Corbett administration Cabinet member and Supreme Court Justices Seamus McCaffrey in 2014 and J. Michael Eakin in 2016, and significant disciplinary action against scores of other state employees. Much harrumphing about such conduct obviously has produced little reform. The state Legislature remains mostly male, and the payment of hush money to keep quiet and resolve sexual harassment claims demonstrates that the old boys’ network decried by Kane is very much alive in the Capitol. Gov. Tom Wolf has ordered the state Department of General Services to stop using a self-insurance program, funded by taxpayers, to cover settlements for claims of sexual misconduct. That’s a good start. Putting lawmakers and other state officials on the hook for their own conduct is a deterrent. The ultimate answer, as for most of the state’s problems, lies at the ballot box. Only 15 percent of the state’s legislators, 38 of 253, are women, and only four of those hold leadership positions within the four legislative caucuses. Across the nation, a record number of women have responded to the wave of sexual harassment and abuse allegations by deciding to run for local, state and federal offices. More Pennsylvania women need to make that decision not just because of the harassment and abuse issue and to break up the old boys’ network, but to raise their voices and add their perspectives on important public policy.