Emerge Vermont is part of a nationwide network that trains women to run for political office. Former Gov. Madeleine Kunin spoke Thursday night at an event
Emerge Vermont is part of a nationwide network that trains women to run for political office. Former Gov. Madeleine Kunin spoke Thursday night at an event that kicked off the Vermont organization. (Kayla Rice/Reformer)

BRATTLEBORO -- A few months ago former Gov. Madeleine Kunin was invited to speak at events in San Francisco and Cambridge, Mass., hosted by Emerge America, a national political action group that trains women Democrats to help prepare them to run for local, state and national political offices.

Kunin, the first and only woman to be elected as governor of Vermont, was happy to travel out of state to talk about her experiences, but she wondered why Emerge did not have a presence in Vermont.

"Here I am raising money in these states," Kunin told a crowd of about 50 women and men who gathered to hear her Thursday night at Catherine Dianich Gallery on Main Street. "Why not do it right here at home?"

Kunin is on a statewide tour to raise money and introduce Emerge to Vermonters.

The event in Brattleboro Thursday night was the third rally held since the group officially filed its statement of organization in August.

Emerge started in San Francisco in 2005 to recruit qualified women Democrats to run for political office and also to train them to build confidence and improve their campaigning skills.

Vermont is the 14th state to open an Emerge affiliate.

"More women in politics would lead to better government," Kunin said. "And women more than men need to be convinced to run."

Emerge Vermont, working with the national organization, will develop programs and training seminars for a group of women who will apply.

Emerge Vermont has hired Sarah McCall as executive director and the group hopes to offer its first training session in the spring.

Kunin talked about her experience in Vermont politics.

Early in her career as a political activist Kunin said she remembers walking in to the Statehouse and seeing few, if any women, representatives or senators.

Today, she said, women now make up a majority of the democrats serving in Montpelier.

"I couldn't have envisioned a majority of women on the democratic side, so much has changed," Kunin said. "And the impact of these women has been visible."

Still, women still have a long way to go in Vermont.

Vermont is one of only four states that has not sent a women to serve in Washington and Kunin remains the only woman ever to serve as governor.

And locally, on selectboards and local commissions, Kunin said women only make up about 25 or 30 percent of the elected positions.

She said starting an Emerge group in Vermont will prepare women so that when positions open up they have the confidence to enter the race.

"We need women at the local level," Kunin said. "We have to be primed, so that the minute there is an opening, somebody is ready to run. And that's what Emerge is about: To be ready to run."

Issues like health care, early childhood education and climate change need to be at the top of the agenda, Kunin said, and with more women serving in leadership roles she believes the state and country will be better served.

"We have a job to do, at the local level and at the legislative level. We can't be satisfied until we reach 50 percent," Kunin said. "That's where we should be in the United State of America. That's what democracy is all about."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com; or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. You can follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.