Kunin rallies for females as politicians

If former Vermont governor, and the state’s only female governor to date, Madeleine Kunin has her way, the statehouse is likely to see more female politicians. 

“Women tend to think they are not as qualified to run for office,” she said. But Kunin, along with several other high-profile Vermonters, are trying to change that. 

Together they officially launched Emerge Vermont, the 14th state to join Emerge America, at the end of September to recruit, mentor and train Democratic women with sights set on political office. 

Already Vermont is in a position to maximize female political participation. Nationally, Vermont is second to Colorado in the number of women who hold positions in the state legislature, while women make up less than 20 percent of Congress, Kunin said. 

In the 21st century, encouraging women to run for office is essential, Kunin said. 

Professor of political science Ellen Andersen agreed, adding that women have important expertise to contribute to American politics. 

“When women run for office they win at the same rate that men do,” Andersen said.    

Vermont’s statistics suggest that women may have relatively more opportunities to participate in politics than other states where women have had few opportunities. But even at a university thought to be progressive, sexism persists in surprising ways, said state representative Kesha Ram. 

Ram, a UVM alum, helped Kunin establish the organization along with several other Democratic politicians.

Ram said she believes the need for a network like Emerge was apparent even as an undergraduate when she served on the Student Government Association (SGA). 

“I had so many male candidates for SGA president ask me if I would be their vice-president, and it felt assumed,” she said. “It took working in the U.S. Senate for California Senator Diane Feinstein to realize that women often don’t feel qualified or that they should be rightfully running for the position.”

When Ram was elected SGA president-only the seventh woman to serve that role in an 80-year-long history-she said she was able to meet women in the legislature who 

helped her feel confident enough to lead. 

“I realized that everyone should have access to this,” Ram said. “We thought if we could get organized we would have the ability to give women a network to join.”

Since January the organization has raised $50,000. They have hired an executive director and hope to begin forming a training program for candidates soon, Kunin said.  

The organization is in the process of forming a formal board and holding events around the state and Kunin is looking into holding an informational session at UVM for students looking to get involved in the program.