A recent study noted that Kentucky was ranked 47th out of the 50 states in the percentage of state officeholders who are female. Emerge Kentucky is out to change all that.
Emerge Kentucky is the state’s premier organization for recruiting and training Democratic women to run for office. Affiliated with the nationwide Emerge USA program, it identifies, encourages, vets, and prepares promising Democratic women who might be interested in running for elective office. The organization then works with each participant to identify the political office that makes the most sense for her, and helps her develop a road map showing what it will take to get there.
Based on the results of last year’s election, it looks like its efforts are paying off in a big way.
Emerge Gets Results
In the 2016 election, 100% of Emerge Kentucky candidates who ran for office won their primary elections. In the general election in November, 14 of 23 (61%) won their races up and down the ballot, despite the Republican headwinds that swept the state and the nation in that election. Emerge Kentucky winners included two new members of the state General Assembly, McKenzie Cantrell and Attica Scott. In addition, 12 of the 13 candidates for local office won, including the youngest mayor of Paducah, first-time candidate, Brandi Harless.
Attesting to the organization’s focus on diversity among the candidates it prepares for office, the winning Emerge Kentucky candidates hail from rural, urban, and suburban communities throughout the state. Additionally nine percent are women of color.
Since its founding in 2010 the impact of the Emerge Kentucky program has been cumulative. “Currently 25 Emerge Kentucky alumnae serve in office throughout the state,” notes Blair Haydon, executive director of the organization.
Benefits of Women in Office
The success of the program offers significant benefits, not just for women, but for the state population as a whole. Women who serve in political office have a different understanding of policy priorities in areas such as healthcare, transportation, education, and jobs. Their participation increases the likelihood that effective and just solutions to nagging social, economic, and environmental problems will be crafted and implemented.
“When women run for public office they bring fresh new perspectives to the political arena, highlight issues that are often sidelined in male-dominated elections, and underscore the need for more diversity at all levels of government,” said Alexis Hebert, deputy executive director of Emerge Kentucky.
Candidate Identification and Training
Potential candidates are often identified by individuals in the informal Emerge Kentucky network or by other Democratic Party officeholders or supporters. Interested women also reach out themselves. Not surprisingly, interest in running for office among Democratic women has spiked since the November 8 election. “Applications have more than doubled since the presidential election,” notes Jennifer Moore, founder of Emerge Kentucky and currently its board chair. “After the election, women were asking, ‘What can I do?’. I tell them 1. Run for office; 2. Get more involved in the Democratic Party; and 3. Help get out the vote.”
Applicants are selected for the program on the basis of interest, community and workplace experience, demonstrated leadership potential, and network-building skills. Once each annual class of 20 to 25 women has been selected, Emerge Kentucky conducts a six-months-long 70-hour training and mentoring program. Training is led by local and national experts in their fields, and includes:
- Public Speaking and Communication
- Media and Messaging
- Campaign Strategy
- Field Operations
- Labor and Endorsements8
- Technology and New Media
- Cultural Competency
- Ethical Leadership
In addition, Emerge Kentucky alumnae, staff, and classmates offer continuing guidance and support for one another.
“We lean on one another as Emerge sisters and rely on one another as resources. We have ongoing relationships,” notes Attica Scott, recently elected state representative for the 41st District. “I participate each year in training and most Emerge sisters give back to the programs as a means of saying Thank You,” she says.
While all aspects of the training program are invaluable, some parts of the program stand out to the individual participants. “I found the session on public speaking to be the most memorable and helpful,” Ms. Scott says. “They encouraged me to step beyond the formulaic way of speaking, to be enthusiastic and express my authentic self.”
McKenzie Cantrell, recently elected KY House representative for the 38th District, found the Emerge network’s encouragement to run for office and subsequent political training to be most helpful. After being encouraged by individuals who had participated in the program and others, Ms. Cantrell says it took her about a year to get comfortable with the idea of running for office and to apply for the program. Then just as she began her formal Emerge Kentucky training, the officeholder in her district, Denny Butler, switched political parties from Democrat to Republican, leading her to jump into the campaign much earlier than she had planned. “That accelerated the process,” she said. As a result, Ms. Cantrell found herself taking the course at the same time she was running for office. “The information provided by the course was so relevant. I often thought I wish I had known that even two weeks ago.”
In addition to the in-depth political training, Ms. Cantrell also values the ongoing opportunities for networking with other women who have participated in the program as well as statewide Democratic Party influencers and others.
And More Are On the Way
Graduation of the current 26-member Emerge Kentucky class will take place in June, bringing the total number of active alumnae to 166.
Every one of these individuals will be well prepared to make significant contributions to her community and her state, thanks to the political training and relationships gained through participation in the Emerge Kentucky program.
For more information about Emerge Kentucky, you may visit its website at http://www.emergeky.org.