Pennsylvania’s 2018 governor’s race just got a little more interesting.
Laura Ellsworth, a high-powered Pittsburgh lawyer with strong ties to policy and politics, last week announced she’s in it to win it.
To do so, she has to nab a contested Republican nomination, then beat incumbent Democratic Gov. Wolf as the (so far) sole female candidate in a state known for “man’s world” politics.
Who is she?
She’s a 59-year old New York native, a Princeton grad with a law degree from Pitt; she ran the Pittsburgh office of Jones Day, an international firm with 2,500 lawyers, and now heads its global service initiatives, such as fighting human trafficking and securing free legal aid for military veterans.
She’s never run for office, but has been immersed in efforts linked to Pittsburgh’s resurgence, including heading the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, serving on the executive committee of the Allegheny Conference and on many local, state, and regional boards. She’s married to former longtime federal prosecutor Bruce Teitelbaum, now of counsel to the Pittsburgh firm Farrell & Reisinger. They have an adult son.
She raised tons of dough for GOP candidates, backed John Kasich for president (says she wrote in his name in last year’s election), gave money to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Sen. Bob Casey — and doesn’t like political labels.
“I don’t do labels,” Ellsworth tells me. “They make us talk past each other.”
She’s running (as is everyone) on job creation and economic growth and has plenty to say about the state of the state, including, of course, its fiscal mess:
“We’re being driven over a cliff like cattle. There’s no plan, no vision, no discipline. Now there’s talk of borrowing more at higher rates due to our downgrades. We have a political class that waits for the next election, [believing] you can’t get unelected for doing nothing.”
State leadership, she says, is “elementally incompetent.”
A sound pitch, no doubt.
But given the cringe-worthy paucity of women with statewide political clout, is Pennsylvania receptive to greater gender balance?
You may know that women seeking high office here haven’t had much success. The state has never elected a woman governor or senator. The current 18-member congressional delegation has no women. And the 253-member legislature owns one of the lowest percentages of women in the nation (18 percent), the lowest among northeastern states.
States with lower percentages include Louisiana, Mississippi, West Virginia.
Some suspect a baked-in Pennsylvania aversion to electing women to high-profile posts. Ask Allyson Schwartz, Katie McGinty, or, for that matter, Hillary Clinton.
The last woman to reach a major-party ballot in a general election for governor was then-Republican Barbara Hafer in 1990. She lost to incumbent Gov. Bob Casey, who garnered close to 70 percent of the vote, carrying 66 of 67 counties.
(Earlier this year, Hafer pleaded guilty to lying to feds in connection with a long-standing corruption probe dating back to her time as state treasurer, from 1997 to 2005.)
Democrat Kathleen Kane was elected attorney general in 2014, touted as a rising star. You know how that played out: turned into a shooting star.
Seems that in the Keystone State, even when women rise, they fall.
Ellsworth says she’s not deterred, in part because “people across this state have a hunger for people who care about them.” She says, “For me, being governor is about doing something, not being somebody.”
She debuts with GOP rivals Thursday at a Montgomery County GOP Committee-sponsored gubernatorial forum at Bluestone Country Club in Blue Bell.
Other scheduled attendees are two announced candidates, Pittsburgh businessman Paul Mango and York County state Sen. Scott Wagner, plus a potential candidate: state House Speaker Mike Turzai of Pittsburgh.
If all are in come next May’s GOP primary, their range of experience, ideology, and quirks will make for an interesting contest — especially if Ellsworth’s in the mix.