It’s Hard to Overestimate the Impact of Emerge Vermont

This week’s primary was a banner day for Democratic women. Becca Balint. Charity Clark. Sarah Copeland Hanzas. Becca White. Tanya Vyhovsky. Wendy Harrison. Anne Watson. Pending recount, Martine Larocque Gulick. I could go on.

On the statewide level, the only man who defeated a viable woman was David Zuckerman, and he beat Kitty Toll by less than five percentage points. Otherwise, when given a choice, the Democratic electorate seemed to express a built-in preference for female candidates.

(Republicans, on the other hand, were like schoolboys with a NO GURLZ ALOUD sign on their clubhouse. At the statewide level, every female Republican candidate was rejected.)

This is partly because many liberal voters want to eliminate the persistent gender imbalance in Vermont politics. The breaking point may have been when Mississippi elected Cindy Hyde-Smith to the U.S. Senate, leaving progressive ol’ Vermont as the only state never to have sent a woman to Congress.

But the biggest factor is Emerge Vermont. It equips smart, qualified, energetic women and sends them out to conquer new lands. Emerge has ensured that there are top-quality women ready for any electoral challenge. There were 48 Emerge alums on the primary ballot; 44 of them won. Another 13 had just completed an intensive campaign training; 11 were victorious.

This may strike you as regurgitation of an Emerge press release. In fact, the above figures came from an Emerge press release. Thing is, it’s true, and a good Vermont political observer can’t assess the scene without giving credit to Emerge.

Also, as impressive as they are, those press release numbers fail to tell the most important story about the organization’s impact: providing a steady supply of candidates for the Vermont Democratic Party.

Any current or former staffer from any party will tell you that one of the hardest things to do is recruit candidates. Not a lot of people are willing to put up with the long hours, life disruptions, and meager pay offered to all our our public officials except at the very highest level.

This task has proved literally impossible for the VTGOP. They struggle to put together a statewide ticket and usually lose winnable (or even safe) legislative seats because they simply can’t find anyone to run. Their recruitment strategy, such as it is, consists of online appeals for people to step forward. There is no actual outreach. Recruitment is often a process of approaching individuals and gconvincing them to run. Those who answer the VTOP’s passive invitations tend to be strongly motivated by ideology *coughextremistscough*.

The Republicans don’t have a staff. Their party organization is sketchy at best. And they don’t have anything like Emerge Vermont.

(If Lenore Broughton were at all smart about how she spends her political money, she’d dump True North Reports like a hot potato and set up a conservative Emerge equivalent. It’d never be as productive as the original, but it would help with quantity of candidates and with the Republicans’ severe gender imbalance.)

Hypothetically, if Emerge Vermont didn’t exist, how many of those 55 successful trainees would have even entered politics? Emerge’s raison d’être is that women face a whole series of obstacles if they want to run for office. Emerge is there to remove those barriers and/or teach women to run faster and jump higher. And what do you know, it works.

And if they hadn’t entered politics, how many replacements would the VDP have been able to find?

Emerge alums also enter with a level of preparation that otherwise is gained slowly through years of experience. Their graduates are better equipped than other first-time candidates. It’s no surprise that they win. A lot.

And continue to advance once they’re in the system. The statewide winners were all Emerge alums, as are so many current legislators that I won’t even try to list them all. Suffice it to say that the Democratic delegation would look completely different if not for Emerge. Probably smaller. A lot more male, and much less diverse. Women of color and LGBTQ+ candidates have benefited tremendously from Emerge training.

The Democrats’ statewide primary ballot would have been completely different as well. Maybe Balint or Gray or Gray or Clark or Copeland Hanzas would have fought their way up the ladder without Emerge. But all of them, all in one year, would not.

Maybe that’s why the Democratic electorate seems to prefer women over men. It’s not affirmative action; it’s simply choosing the stronger candidates. For the first time in our history, many of those are female.


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