BURLINGTON — Vermont’s political “old boys’ club” could have more competition as a national effort to recruit and train female Democratic office-seekers comes to the state.
Former Vermont Gov. Madeleine Kunin announced the formation of Emerge Vermont, a new group that will support women who seek political office in a press conference at City Hall on Monday. The Vermont organization will be the newest of 14 state affiliates of Emerge America, which was founded in 2005 to address the underrepresentation of women holding political office at the local, state and federal levels.
The purpose of the organization is to recruit and train qualified women to run for office, Kunin said. Because many women do not “self-identify” as politicians, female role models must encourage and train more women to consider politics, she said.
Kunin initiated the partnership because women bring a unique voice to the decision-making process, she said.
“Even in the Vermont Legislature, you will see that policies affecting women, like the Equal Pay Act, like paid sick days, are often spearheaded by women legislators,” Kunin said. “Women’s voices are somewhat different, not on every issue, but on some issues, and those voices need to be heard.”
The organization does not provide campaign money to candidates, Kunin said. Instead, it raises money for training, which includes teaching potential candidates how to raise money for their own campaigns. The organization has raised nearly $50,000.
The percentage of women in the Vermont Legislature ranks second in the nation after Colorado, Kunin said. There are 64 women in the 150-member House (40 percent), and nine in the 30-member Senate (30 percent).
However, Kunin said women are under represented in other levels of state politics.
For example, women occupy eight of 75 elected seats in Franklin County, such as selectboard seats, Kunin said.
Mayor Liz Gamache of St. Albans is the state’s only female mayor. Vermont has never elected a woman to Congress.
Kunin said running for statewide office is a larger undertaking than running for local board positions and the state Legislature. Aside from a more competitive campaign, full-time, statewide positions are challenging for women who have family responsibilities.
Rep. Sarah Buxton, D-Tunbridge, said family obligations and financial restrictions impair equal gender representation in politics.
“The decision to run for office presents different challenges for women,” Buxton said. “Women often cite the challenges of balancing family and work with the demands of public office.”
The organization recruits women who are active members of their community, Buxton said. The organization then gives the up-and-comers the tools they need to run for office, such as how to raise money and how to hold a news conference.
The organization has its eye on some potential candidates, Buxton said.
Lily Weissgold, a 10th-grade Burlington High School student, came to the conference to thank some of the state’s female lawmakers for their effort. Weissgold said she worked with Kunin and others over the summer to launch Emerge Vermont.
Weissgold, who serves on her school’s Planning Committee, said she will run for office in the future.
On Tuesday evening, state and local officials will celebrate the partnership at Hotel Vermont in Burlington. Representatives from Emerge America will attend the event.