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More Women Running For Office in Vermont, Nation Than Ever Before

More Women Running For Office in Vermont, Nation Than Ever Before

Former Vermont Governor Madeleine Kunin had a favorite saying about representation in politics, one that stuck with many of the women she worked with: “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” 

It was with that philosophy in mind that Kunin founded Emerge Vermont in 2013 to help elect more women to public office. Kunin was inspired to start the organization after she spoke at a conference hosted by Emerge America, the national parent organization. Since its inception, Emerge Vermont has trained 88 Democratic women to run for office. 20 Emerge Vermont alumnae currently hold elected office in the state. In 2018, 34 Emerge Vermont alumnae are running for office or for reelection, including gubernatorial candidate Christine Hallquist.

These 34 Emerge alumnae run alongside a record number of female candidates across the country this year. According to PBS News, more women than ever before have won major party primaries in races for governor and Congress this year. Most of these women are Democrats. “I’m thrilled that so many women are thinking about it who haven’t thought about it before,” Kunin said in an interview with The Campus. “Emerge is really filling a need.” 

Though Kunin applauded the high number of female candidates, she said Vermont still has a lot of work to do. Vermont is the only state that has never sent a woman to Congress. Kunin is the only female governor to have served in Vermont. 

Many women in government are working to change the state’s political culture to make it more egalitarian. State Sen. Debbie Ingram (D-Chittenden) said that women need to run to advocate for issues that impact them disproportionately, such as women’s health care needs and child care.

“When half the population is female then we should have a similar proportion in our government,” Ingram said. “We can’t expect men to continue to be in the majority and represent our interests. We need to speak for ourselves.”

But it is often a challenge to get women to run for public office, as State Rep. Jill Krowinski (D-Chittenden 6-3) experienced firsthand. Krowinski currently serves as the House majority leader and is a member of the Emerge Vermont advisory council. When somebody first suggested she run for office in 2012, she hesitated. Krowinski was familiar with politics. She had served as the director of the Vermont Democratic House Campaign, the executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party and run a gubernatorial campaign, but she saw her role as helping other women get elected. She said she “had to be talked into” running herself. This experience further hit home for her the importance of programs like Emerge. 

Emerge Vermont offers two types of trainings for women: a six month in-depth training and a boot camp weekend option. The six-month intensive includes 70 hours of programing, during which participants learn about everything from public speaking and fundraising, to campaign strategy and field operations, to cultural competency and ethical leadership. During the training sessions, prospective candidates get advice from Washington experts and local politicians. 

In 2018, the full program cost $750, and the bootcamp $265. Executive Director Ruth Hardy, who is currently working part-time as she runs for an Addison County state Senate seat, said there are several options available for women who cannot afford the full cost. “Scholarships are available, as are payment plans, and assistance with fundraising to cover tuition,” she said. The 2019 tuition has not yet been set.

Hardy said that Emerge Vermont tailors their training to the state’s political landscape, but that much of their curriculum translates to other places. She also noted that while “campaigning in rural areas is different than urban areas,” alumnae sometimes move and run in other places. Hardy also mentioned that Middlebury students have participated in the bootcamps in the past, and that they would be welcome in the longer program as well, although the scheduling commitment would be difficult to balance with a full course load. 

State Rep. Carol Ode (D-Chittenden 6-1), who graduated from Emerge in 2014, remembers that the program challenged her to consider all aspects of running for office. Ode and Ingram, who are both currently running for reelection, mentioned that they still receive support from Emerge in the form of bi-weekly strategy phone calls. 

“We’ve had periodic phone calls where several of us get on together and trade ideas and talk about what’s going on the campaign,” Ingram said. “Emerge has sent out several emails highlighting those of us who are running and getting the word out.” 

Equally important to the strategy sessions, Ingram said, are the lasting relationships that Emerge alumnae form with one another. “We refer to each other as Emerge sisters and it really does feel that way, that we have a special bond,” she said. “We help each other with campaigns and call each other to vent when we need to.”

Ingram has also worked as a mentor for subsequent classes of Emerge trainees. As part of the program, the women spend a day shadowing a representative at the state house. “Some of them have reached out to me to ask if we can get coffee and ask me advice and I always try to make time to meet with them,” she said. “I want to make sure I help women come along and get more women running for office.” 

For Democratic women considering running for office, Ingram, Ode and Krowinski all recommend Emerge Vermont as a good way to get started. Krowinski also noted that not all the women who participate necessarily end up as candidates. “We have alumnae who have gone through the program and didn’t feel ready to run for office so my next advice for them was to get involved in a local campaign,” she said. 

Going forward, Emerge Vermont is considering expanding their program on the local level. “We are seeing a lot of interest, especially given the climate nationally, of women wanting to run for office,” Krowinski said. 

Applications for the next round of training will open in 2019, and the next training session will begin in the spring. 

Editor’s Note: Ruth Hardy is the spouse of Prof. Jason Mittell, The Campus’s academic advisor. Mittell plays no role in any editorial decisions made by the paper. Any questions may be directed to campus@middlebury.edu.