Kunin kicks off new group dedicated to electing women in Vermont
BURLINGTON — Former Gov. Madeleine Kunin and other former and current state officials on Tuesday kicked off a new political advocacy group in Vermont, aimed at electing more women to office.
The group, called Emerge Vermont, is dedicated to recruiting and training Democratic women. It is a branch of Emerge America, a national organization that formed in California in 2002 and now operates in 14 states, including Vermont.
Kunin, who had been invited by Emerge America to speak at events in Boston and San Francisco, thought a branch of the organization would succeed in the Green Mountain State. Earlier this year, Kunin approached a group of women in the Legislature. After she received an enthusiastic response, Emerge Vermont was born. After raising the necessary $25,000 to be recognized by the national organization, Emerge Vermont registered in August with the Secretary of State’s Office as a political action committee.
The group will not endorse, contribute to or assist campaigns, but instead will focus on recruiting and training viable candidates.
Speaking to attendees at the event at the Hotel Vermont on Tuesday, Kunin said the group had raised nearly $50,000. Kunin, the only woman ever elected governor of Vermont, also pointed out to supporters that Vermont is one of only four states never to have sent a woman to Congress, and that only one of the state’s nine cities is represented by a female mayor.
At the federal level, Kunin noted the success that the women of the Senate Armed Services Committee have had in bringing sexual assaults in the military into the spotlight as an example of the importance of having women in office.
More than 100 attendees packed the kickoff event. Kunin was flanked by a number of Democratic officials, including U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, State Treasurer Beth Pearce and state Reps. Kesha Ram, Jill Krowinski and Sarah Buxton.
Rep. Diane Lanpher, a Vergennes Democrat who represents Addison County’s 3rd District, welcomed the organization.
“This group, though now formally organized, has been happening loosely for many years,” Lanpher said in a phone interview Wednesday. “I was comfortable running because women invited me.”
Lanpher said she attended workshops hosted by Kunin in 2004.
“At that very first workshop (Kunin) said in her opening remarks, ‘Get over it — you’re qualified to run,’” Lanpher said.
Kunin’s bold declaration, along with encouragement from then-House Speaker Gaye Symington and Rep. Betty Nuovo of Middlebury, encouraged Lanpher to run. She was elected to the Vermont House of Representatives in 2008, and is currently serving her third term.
“A group like Emerge Vermont is important because we need to inspire women within the community that their voice is not only wanted, but needed,” Lanpher said.
Only two of the nine state representatives from Addison County are women, Lanpher and Nuovo, who won her first election to the House in 1980. Lanpher acknowledged the disparity in the number of women vs. men in the county delegation, but said the focus shouldn’t be just on electing women to high levels of government.
“The goal isn’t just to elect women to the House of Representatives, but their local governments — planning commissions, school boards,” she said.
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