Upcoming local and state elections this year and next have already spurred a wave of candidates filing or announcing a run for office. At least a half-dozen are graduates of an organization that aims to help more Democratic women get elected in Maryland and across the country.
So far, six alumnae of Emerge Maryland have announced their intentions to run for office in Annapolis and Anne Arundel County in 2017 or 2018, including former school board members Debbie Ritchie and Allison Pickard. The organization, a chapter of the national Emerge America group, has been grooming female candidates for office since it was established in 2012.
This year, it graduated its largest class ever with 23 women completing the six-month candidate training course. The group celebrated Saturday with a graduation ceremony at the Prince George’s Educators Association building in District Heights.
In another first, all 23 women intend to run for office, according to Emerge Maryland Executive Director Diane Fink. Alumnae from previous classes are running for election or re-election, as well.
“We expect to have more than 30 women on ballots across Maryland in 2018,” Fink said. “That’s a lot, and we’re really excited about it.”
In Anne Arundel, Emerge candidates include:
•Ritchie, who served on the Anne Arundel County Board of Education from 2010 to 2016 and is running for an open seat in the County Council’s third district;
•Pickard, who served on the school board from 2015 to 2016 and is running for an open seat in the County Council’s second district;
•Lisa Brannigan Rodvien, a teacher who is running for an open seat in the County Council’s sixth district;
•Shaneka Henson, an attorney who is running for Annapolis City Council in Ward 6;
•Alexus Viegas, a paralegal who is running for City Council in Ward 7; and
•Pam Luby, an attorney who is running for a delegate seat in the General Assembly‘s District 33.
Ritchie, Pickard, Rodvien and Henson all graduated Saturday.
Fink said she’s seen an uptick in women interested in the program since the 2016 election cycle.
The first spike in interest, she said, came from women who were inspired to see Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton become the first female presidential nominee from a major party. The second came after the election from disappointed Democrats looking to organize.
In response, the group has been hosting one-day “Taste of Emerge” sessions that cater to women who are interested in learning the basics of organizing and activism.
The full six-month Emerge course requires an application to join. Participants spend 75 hours spread out over monthly weekend sessions learning how to craft a stump speech, organize successful fundraisers and send campaign material through the mail. During the legislative session, they spend a day at the State House meeting with lawmakers.
In Maryland, where 31 percent of current state legislators are women, only one current county executive is a woman and where there has never been a female governor, Fink said her group’s goal is to see the proportion of elected women rise to match the percentage of women in the population: about 51 percent.
The group has a clear political stance: Among Emerge Maryland’s top backers, according to OpenSecrets, are Democratic leadership political action committees Building a Majority and LEG PAC as well as the National Education Association and Democratic politicians including U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen and Congressmen Elijah Cummings, Steny Hoyer, John Sarbanes and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger.
But Fink said she’d like to see all women encouraged to get involved, starting from a young age.
“I don’t think we do that very well with girls, and we need to work harder,” she said. “Women tend to be more thoughtful about legislation when it comes to bringing more of the dollars back to their own communities for things that serve the public at large: schools, infrastructure, services.”
“We bring our experiences with us.”