Emerge Vermont ready to train more women to run for office

Emerge Vermont recently opened the application for its next six-month training program designed to help Democratic women run for office.

After not offering a session last fall, Executive Director and Vermont House Rep. Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, said she anticipates a strong incoming class, some of whom will likely be candidates in 2020.

“What I am hearing from women that I’m talking to is that they are outraged with what’s happening in Washington and they want to do something,” she said. “Running for office in Vermont in some shape or form is one way to support their communities and their values.”

Emerge Vermont was founded in 2013 as a chapter of the national Emerge America organization. Since then, Emerge Vermont has trained 91 women and 35 alumnae currently hold elected office.

The application for the next Emerge Vermont session, which can be found on their website, closes on Aug. 9. Krowinski hopes to accept 20 to 25 women to the training, which includes 70 hours of programming. Participants learn about public speaking, fundraising, campaign strategy and ethical leadership, to name a few of the topics covered.

Krowinski explained that Emerge Vermont tries to make the program accessible to women throughout Vermont.

“Our training sessions are done all over the state. Every weekend we have a training program — it’s in a different corner,” she said. Emerge Vermont also offers scholarships for women who cannot pay full tuition.

This year, the first workshop will take place Sept. 7 in Rutland, and Krowinski hopes women from Rutland will apply. Of the 15 seats in the Vermont House of Representatives that represent Rutland County, only three are held by women.

“When you compare that to other counties, I think that ranks on the low side for representation,” Krowinski said.

One way Emerge Vermont finds new participants is through their network of alumnae, including Gina Ottoboni, of Chittenden, who ran for the Rutland-Windsor-1 district in 2018 and lost to the incumbent with 41% of the vote. Ottoboni said she would highly recommend the Emerge training to any Democratic woman considering a run for office.

“It gave me the skills I needed to run, the confidence that I needed, and the network that I needed,” she said. “I can’t imagine running without having done the program. It gave me such a head start.”

Ottoboni is now serving on the Chittenden Select Board, and she is not sure if she will run for higher office again. However, she wants to see more women represent Rutland County at the State House.

“I don’t think we encourage women to run as much as we need to,” she said. “We have a lot of work to do, and I think Emerge can play a role in that and does play a role in that. But we need more Rutland-area women to run for office.”

Preconceived notions about women not belonging in politics are not the only barrier stopping women from running for office. As Krowinski pointed out, there can also be a financial cost. Lawmakers often take a paycut and must make arrangements with their employers and take time off to govern.

It is because of these difficulties that Emerge Vermont offers their training program, along with weekend boot camps for prospective candidates. Kari Dolan, D-Waitsfield, participated in a boot camp in spring 2018.

“It was fantastic,” she said. “It was a non-stop, action-packed information-stuffed workshop that went from early morning to late through the day and really covered the nuts and bolts of running for office.”

Dolan emphasized the support system that Emerge provides for women, which Krowinski also mentioned.

“What we’re working on is creating a network of women to run and to support one another,” she said. “So when a woman raises her hand and says, ‘I’m running’ there’s a circle of other women there to support her.”

In addition to candidate workshops, Krowinski is planning to launch a new boot camp to train women to run and staff campaigns.

Krowinski believes that Vermont needs to have more women at the table. Vermont is the only state to have never sent a woman to Congress, and Krowinksi hopes getting more women elected at all levels of government will make a difference.

Krowinski and Dolan spoke about the need to have women in politics.

“We need those women, those voices of women, to be part of our political process,” Dolan said. “Emerge does that for women, gives them the confidence, gives them the know-how.”