Representative Tiff Bluemle is a 2020 Emerge alum and former educator. She’s embracing her new role in the legislature with excitement, passion, and an engagement with her community and state.
How did she get involved with Emerge Vermont, and what was her experience like?
Tiff Bluemle has been familiar with Emerge and its mission since its formation. She’s had a number of friends who were involved in the program as trainees, and her partnership with Ruth Hardy when she was the executive director of Emerge Vermont and when Tiff was at Change the Story gave her yet another introduction to the Emerge sisterhood. Many times the work she did at Change the Story and at Vermont Works for Women led her to be involved alongside Emerge Vermont. Her involvement with politics has long been as an advocate for others, but having women at the forefront of the political sphere was something she knew was never out of reach. “Growing up I assumed that the way to make a change and help address problems was to go into politics because those were the role models that I saw. I came of age at a time when Shirley Chism made a bid for Presidency and when Geraldine Ferraro was on the national ticket, so I always assumed that women had a place in the political arena,” Tiff said.
After graduate school, Tiff discovered her love for teaching and she pursued that career for many years. She admits that she surprised herself when she found herself pursuing activism in the form of politics rather than educating even though the thought of running for office was always in the back of her mind. Her passion stems from removing the barriers that prevent many women from achieving economic self-sufficiency, and although she describes herself as an engaged and happy advocate, for the first time this year she wanted to be on the other side of the table.
Tiff learned about the Emerge bootcamp from Jill Krowsinski—the current Executive Director of Emerge Vermont—when she discussed her interest in running for office. She joined the virtual Candidate Bootcamp in June of this year. Tiff and a number of her classmates were in the midst of their campaigns during the bootcamp, so she found it invaluable to be in a space where they could talk about the nuts and bolts of running a campaign. Hearing the stories of other women who had run before her and what their experiences were like showed her that it’s okay to be uncomfortable with parts of the process. She admits that there’s always a fear that maybe you’re not “doing it right,” but because she found a space to share those fears and hear that others felt the same way, it became less daunting.
What was the campaign trail like for Tiff?
As a first-time candidate, Tiff had to navigate the campaigning sphere along with the added difficulties that Covid-19 poses. She decided to enter the race in her Chittenden 6-5 District when the second legislator who had served decided to retire. That decision was made in mid-May, so she didn’t have a lot of time to prepare. One unexpected challenge in campaigning that many women face is being comfortable talking about themselves. Tiff admits that when you’re running for the first time, the people don’t just need to know about your policy stances, they need to know about who you are. “They need to know why you’re running, what you’ve done in the past, and how that relates to the work that you’ll be doing as a legislator,” Tiff said. She admits that talking about herself was uncomfortable at first, but she found the drive to get past that and run her campaign.
The inability to canvas traditionally this year was a roadblock for many candidates. The format of Zoom meetings made the introductions less organic and harder to meet and connect with new voters. This summer, Tiff had to get creative. She participated with other candidates in slow-moving neighborhood porch chats and coordinated with an ice cream truck to set up socially-distant meet and greets around various neighborhoods to connect with voters.
Despite the many difficulties faced this campaign season, Tiff won her seat in the Vermont House of Representatives on November 3rd, 2020.
What role will Tiff be filling in the Statehouse?
Her role as a State Representative for Burlington’s South End is to be a conduit between the Statehouse and those living in her district. She hasn’t been assigned to her committee yet (a decision that falls to House leadership), but Tiff is particularly passionate about criminal justice reform, expanding post-secondary training opportunities for underemployed workers, and improving the economic status of women, those living with disabilities, and BIPOC Vermonters.
On the education front, Tiff wants to align education and training systems so that they can provide the next generation with adequate tools and career opportunities. “There needs to be a concerted and long-standing commitment to career exposure and to engaging employers in meaningful ways to address labor shortages,” she said. “For a small state, many of our systems operate independent of one another…and all of them play a role in developing the workforce in Vermont, but I think that we have struggled to coordinate those entities and priorities so that we’re all moving in the same direction and reinforcing one another’s work.”
Tiff’s origins are not in the state of Vermont. She grew up in Arizona, moved to California as a teenager, went to college on the east coast, and eventually settled in New York City. It was there where she became a teacher and eventually met her partner. As two women who planned to have children, they wanted to live in a place where their family would be recognized as a legitimate family and where their children were likely to be embraced and supported by their peers and the adults in their lives. Vermont offered the support and comfort that they desired.
Given the size of the state of Vermont, the access to community and political officials gives the people that live there a sense of inclusion. “The Secretary of State might be your neighbor,” she gives as an example. She also adds that given the size and population, “There is a potential for responsive government in a state like Vermont that isn’t possible in a state like New York or California…and I thought to myself ‘This is a place where I could connect to my community in some way.’”
What advice would she give to women who want to get involved in their state or community but don’t know where to start?
“Some of it is just saying ‘Yes’,” Tiff put bluntly.
Her main take away: when an opportunity arises, take advantage of it. “Dip your toes in a range of activities to discern where and how you’d like to engage,” she exhorted. “There are thousands of ways in which we can contribute to our communities: through direct service as a volunteer, as a nonprofit or school board member, by attending public meetings, picking up trash on Green Up Day or by running for office. But, she emphasized, “that’s a heavy lift for a lot of people—parents with small children, people who may not speak English fluently or who have jobs with irregular or inflexible hours. I am perhaps most excited by the opportunity to find new ways of engaging these and other important voices in political decision-making.”
Learn more about Tiff here.
Emerge has one goal: To increase the number of Democratic women in office who are reflective of the incredible diversity of the Democratic party by recruiting, training and providing a powerful network.