Democratic women won key races up and down the ballot in last week’s primary elections. Critical to their success, according to candidates from both sides of the aisle, was Emerge Vermont, which trains Democratic women to run for office.
Forty-eight women on the ballot were Emerge graduates, according to the organization. Forty-four of them — or 92% — won the nomination they sought. Ten were first-time candidates.
A number faced competitive primaries, including for statewide office. They include Sen. Becca Balint, D-Windham, who clinched the Democratic nomination for Vermont’s lone seat in the U.S. House over fellow Emerge alumna Lt. Gov. Molly Gray; Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas, D-Bradford, who secured the nomination for secretary of state; and Charity Clark, a first-time candidate who won the nomination for attorney general.
Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George, meanwhile, won reelection in one of the state’s most hotly contested races.
“Emerge Vermont alums were a dominant force on the ballot,” Elaine Haney, the organization’s executive director, said in a written statement.
Emerge Vermont was established in 2013 by former Gov. Madeleine Kunin, the only woman to hold that job. An affiliate of Emerge America, its mission is to prepare Democratic women in Vermont to lead successful campaigns.
Politicians on the other side of the aisle have taken note.
“I've seen women coming out of Emerge, and they hit the ground running like I've never seen before,” said Rep. Vicki Strong, R-Albany.
“I think that this organization is absolutely crucial because even in a state that is considered progressive in most circles, fewer than a third of selectboard members in the state are women,” said Haney, who was a member of the organization’s 2021 graduating class and previously served on the Essex Selectboard.
Emerge is structured to give participants 80 hours of training over the course of five months. It features classes on how to recruit volunteers, raise money, track and report campaign contributions, and message prospective supporters.
The program operates with the help of primary instructors, who run the courses on a regular basis, and occasional guest speakers, who are typically elected officials who have graduated from the program, according to Haney.
Prior to this year’s primary, 174 women had graduated from the Vermont chapter and 94 of them had run for office. Of those, 68 had won.
Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, D-Chittenden, the state’s first female senator of color, helped found the organization and is also an alumna. She said that while she came into the program already having a support network, “there were many others who hadn't been quite so fortunate that (Emerge) was absolutely needed to help all of us build the kind of sisterhood to change the political landscape.”
Clark, the Democratic nominee for attorney general, said the curriculum was particularly helpful for her because her decision to run came at the last minute. By the time she joined the race, most campaign staffers with statewide experience were already working on other campaigns, Clark said, so she had to rely on her own training.
Emerge also offers an intensive training program for candidates who have not taken the full course. Thirteen women took part in it this year and 11 of them won their primary races. Among those were Chea Waters Evans, who defeated 12-year incumbent Rep. Mike Yantachka, D-Charlotte. Like Clark, Waters joined the race at the last minute — just 48 hours before petitions were due, she said.
“I’m ambitious, and I appreciate it because they help women with ambition, not only to focus those things in ways that are productive, and to help them prepare for the future,” Evans said. “I just kind of did everything backwards.”
GOP women are making progress in winning office throughout the country, according to Jean Sinzdak, associate director of Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics. But when compared with Democratic women, Sinzdak said, Republicans “don’t even come close.”
Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, a moderate who won his party’s nomination for lieutenant governor this month, said he admires Emerge’s success in electing Democratic women to office and believes the Vermont Republican Party should be working to emulate it.
“I will be happier still when we can get back to dealing with the people who are the most competent and we don't need to worry about either skin color or gender,” he said
“Anytime that we can put a program together that can empower people, empower women and empower others to seek office and to become better leaders, I think it's a good thing, so I would be happy if the Republicans would start something like that,” said Rep. Michael Marcotte, R-Newport.
The Vermont Republican Party is working to create similar programs, Strong said, but she suggested that Republicans are harder to organize, which has hindered their progress.
While Emerge does not offer any programs geared specifically toward women of color navigating the Vermont political landscape, Haney said that the curriculum for candidates is dedicated to diversity and equity in politics and in campaigning. In the 2022 class, 23% of participants identified as women of color.
2022 Election Briefs
- Update voter registration by Aug. 31 to guarantee mailed ballot, secretary of state says (August 25, 4:15 pm)
- Bernie Sanders endorses David Zuckerman’s bid for lieutenant governor (August 1, 6:14 pm)
- 2nd poll shows Becca Balint well ahead of Molly Gray (August 1, 5:15 pm)
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