Wanted: Democratic Women to Run for Office

Taking a break from writing about the technical aspects of my work to write about a topic I'm passionate about and really drives why I do what I do. 

For a decade, I've worked for male and female candidates running for office, and I poured equal amounts of blood, sweat, and tears into each of their campaigns. But the older I've gotten, the more I realize I need to really focus my efforts on getting Democratic women elected to office, at all levels. 

You probably know about some of the inherent challenges that female candidates can face. Too much attention to their appearance, questions about family that male candidates don’t get, etc.

But maybe you question if that’s an illusion. Hillary’s still the presumptive Democratic nominee for President, right? And Carly had a great debate, right? Sure. But here’s the reality: They’re in the 1% of people running for office. The rest of the 99% still looks like an old, white, men-only country club. Especially in Pennsylvania, the state I just boomeranged home to. 

The PA State Legislature is more than 82% men

 

Pennsylvania has never elected a female governor. Pennsylvania is the largest state to never elect a woman to the U.S. Senate. Pennsylvania currently has zero women serving in its entire Congressional delegation. 

More than 82 percent of the legislature in Harrisburg is male. And it’s not that every other state has packed their legislatures with diversity, but let's be clear: Pennsylvania is WAY behind the curve, and elections matter. The lack of women elected to office in Pennsylvania can be felt in absence of policies to protect women. 

Pennsylvania ranks 37th in the country for equal pay for women. NARAL gave Pennsylvania an “F” when it came to choice-related laws. If you’re a working mom in Pennsylvania, don’t expect things like a private, sanitary place to pump at work, or reasonable accommodations from your employer during your pregnancy. Do expect high-ranking men to be in the news for sending pornographic emails to each other while they worked in your state capitol. 

It’s not that we have no women running for office. Republicans in the state have actually been running a quiet and efficient pipeline building program for female candidates for years.

Think about that, Dems. We're getting lapped.

To be clear, I’ve met a lot of passionate democrats in Pennsylvania who care deeply about electing a more representative government and have been working hard for a long time. And I’m excited that Heather Arnet is running for state senate right now, and Katie McGinty and Erin McClelland will be on the ballot next year.

But absolutely none of that means this problem is just going to take care of itself over time. At this rate, we’ll reach parity in a couple of centuries when Harrisburg is ocean front property. 

So here is what I'm doing to try to be part of the solution: I'm working with a group called Emerge, which is already successfully operating in 14 other states, to launch in Pennsylvania this fall. 

Emerge is an intensive program that trains Democratic women to run for office. It selects a small class of diverse women who are potentially interested in running for office, at any level, and then gives them hands-on training and plugs them into a big network of like-minded women for support. Emerge grads might not all run right away, and those who run might not win.

But the only way to make a lasting difference is to focus on building a pipeline to elect women across the state at every level. 

I really believe this Emerge model will work in Pennsylvania because Emerge gets results. Since its inception, Emerge has trained over 1,500 women to run for office, and importantly, 40 percent of the Emerge graduates identify as women of color. Fifty-two percent of alumnae have run or been appointed. Of those who have run, 70 percent won their campaigns. 

Please share information about Emerge Pennsylvania with anyone you know who cares about getting women elected to office or might want to run for office herself. Applications for the 2016 class will open up soon and we want to field the strongest possible candidates. And financial donations of support would certainly help too. Getting people elected to Harrisburg is not sexy work, but it is important. Join us.

Abigail Gardner

Scottie Public Affairs