By Aaron Kraut
Maryland was once No.1 in the nation when it came to the percentage of women in its state legislature and Montgomery County has often had multiple women serving on its County Council.
That percentage at the State House has dropped and Montgomery County — despite three current female council members — will soon choose between three male Democratic candidates for county executive. The county has never had a woman in the top job in local politics.
“We come out and vote at over 52 percent. We make up 50 percent of the population but we only hold 30 percent of the seats in the legislature,” said Diane Fink, executive director of the nonprofit Emerge Maryland. “So we’re not trying to do anything other than get our equal representation at the table.”
Emerge Maryland, which graduated its first class last May, trains Democratic women interested in running for office with 75 hours of classes and workshops over a seven-month period.
As Wednesday’s snow storm threatened, the group gathered in Bethesda with many of its first alumnae and supporters for a fundraiser.
“Our goal is to create that farm team,” said Bethesda resident and former Maryland Democratic Party chair Susan Turnbull. “When women are involved in politics, they bring a different sensibility to the office.”
The event Wednesday attracted a number of local politicos. Turnbull co-founded Emerge Maryland, one of 15 statewide Emerge programs in the country, in part to encourage more female candidates for office in time for the June 2014 Democratic primary.
Beth Daly, the Dickerson resident who’s running for a County Council at-large seat, was in the first group of 21 women that went through training in campaign fundraising, public speaking, endorsements and field operations.
“It’s almost like a sisterhood. Without that, I don’t think I would have had the confidence to make a run,” Daly said. “But after graduating from the class, it just sort of lifts you up. It gave me the confidence to say, ‘You can do this and we need more women like you to do this,’ women who are engaged in their communities, involved with their kids schools.”
Other graduates in the inaugural class include Brooke Lierman, a candidate for state delegate in Baltimore City, and Wendy Cohen, who mulled a run for delegate in District 16 before filing for the district’s Democratic Central Committee spot. Emerge Maryland Board member Natali Fani-Gonzalez recently announced her candidacy for one of District 18′s three delegate seats.
The training costs about $6,000 per person, Fink said. Participants pay a $500 tuition fee, so the group depends on fundraising.
Turnbull said Emerge fast-tracked its second class, which started in October and will finish in April, so it would be done in time for the June primary. Of the 38 women who took part in the first two Emerge Maryland classes, Turnbull said 18 will be on the ballot.
“Which is a huge achievement for these women,” Tunrbull said. “I think it’s a big deal to have 18 Democratic women who may not have had the experience and skills to basically have people say to them, ‘You need to run.’”