Elevating Women in Politics | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Elevating Women in Politics

Emerge Oregon offers resources to Democratic women looking to throw their hat in the ring

Women make up 19.4 percent of the U.S. Congress and 24.8 percent of state legislatures.

The numbers are even more disproportionate at the local level, where women make up just 18.8 percent of mayors in cities with a population over 30,000.

This, according to the Emerge America website, is where the Emerge candidate training for Democratic women comes in. Emerge was founded in 2005 with a goal to increase the number of women in public office through heavy recruitment, training and networking. Over the last 12 years, the program has expanded into 23 states, including Oregon, Colorado and California, training over 2,500 women.

Emerge expanded into Oregon in 2009, establishing an office in Portland. Jillian Schoene is the co-executive director of Emerge Oregon, joining the organization in August 2014. She's previously worked for elected officials in Washington D.C., in Salem for former Gov. Ted Kulongoski and more recently as a communications consultant for Kate Brown while she served as Oregon's Secretary of State.

"I fell in love with connecting people to government," Schoene said, "helping them navigate services or just getting information or benefits they deserved, particularly if they were a service member or a veteran. I just fell in love with that work."

Schoene says that while Emerge's primary goal is to train women Democrats to run for office (and win), simply encouraging women to get involved in public policymaking and politics in general is just as important.

"Hillary [Clinton], just by running for office, has increased the profile of our organization." — Jillian Schoene

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Power in Numbers

"The second Hillary (Clinton) announced her run for office, our phones and emails—my phone and email—were getting hit up by women that were finding us on the Internet," said Schoene. "So Hillary, just by running for office, has increased the profile of our organization."

In 2017, 120 women submitted applications for Emerge Oregon's six-month program—20 more than last year. The board is interviewing 60 over the next several weeks; only 25 women will be selected. Schoene says the small class size, between 20 and 25, is ideal for women to share ideas and build relationships with each other.

"We had a ton of success last time," Schoene said. "Some of them did go on to run for office and the other women who attended that training supported those women on the campaign trail, and that's exactly what we're looking for."

According to the Emerge America website, 52 percent of alumnae throughout the 23 state programs have run for office or have been appointed to local boards or commissions. In the 2016 election, of the 214 alumnae appearing on the ballot, 70 percent were elected.

Schoene says that about 40 percent of Emerge Oregon alumnae have run for office. Others who haven't are serving their communities in other ways, such as on a city or county board or commission.

"Many of them are also working on campaigns as campaign managers or consultants or working for a firm," said Schoene. "So I think we are achieving our mission and more."

Called to Action

Nichole van Eikeren, who participated in a one-day Emerge Oregon training in Bend in February, is one of those alumnae who didn't run for office following her training—instead electing to manage the campaigns of other women. She attended the training thinking that she'd learn the skills to run for public office, but after hearing the stories of other women, van Eikeren changed her mind.

"It was very apparent to me that my skillset would be better used helping these other women run their campaigns," said van Eikeren.

Before the Emerge training, van Eikeren had met a woman who was thinking of running for office. After encouraging her to run, she said half-jokingly, "I'll run your campaign." At the training she met two more women, Erica Skatvold and Lauren Sprang, who were certain they wanted to run.

By May, van Eikeren was running three campaigns for first-time female candidates; one for a school board, another for the Bend Park and Recreation District Board of Directors and a third for the Central Oregon Community College Board of Directors.

"I looked at it as an opportunity," said van Eikeren. "I could run for office and maybe get elected or I could help three women get elected—and now my impact is three times as great."

Two out of the three women she helped won their races; fellow Emerge workshop alum Skatvold won a seat on the COCC Board and Sprang was elected to the BPRD Board.

Currently, van Eikeren is managing Jamie McLeod-Skinner's campaign for the Oregon 2nd congressional district, a seat currently held by Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River. van Eikeren met McLeod-Skinner, also an Emerge alumnae, during an Emerge Oregon fundraiser.

"I heard Jamie speak at that event and she really caught my attention," said van Eikeren. "She had relevant experience, she'd actually been elected before—she had all 'the stuff.'"

"I looked at it as an opportunity. I could run for office and maybe get elected or I could help three women get elected—and now my impact is three times as great." —said van Eikeren.

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Reaching women in rural areas

Emerge Oregon offers a few different training programs for registered-Democrat women. The most intensive training is more than six months long, requiring participants to meet one weekend day each month to cover topics such as public speaking, networking, campaigning, media relations, fundraising and more.

While only one six-month session is held each year, Emerge Oregon also offers two-day boot camps and one-day workshops—something they're looking to expand into more rural areas, such as small coastal communities, to reach women who may not be able to travel to Portland every month for the larger training program.

Emerge Oregon has held three one-day trainings this year so far, two in Bend—the last one in October—and one in Willamette Valley. Schoene says women from a variety of different backgrounds attend these "Taste of Emerge" events. The majority of attendees are active in their communities, but have not yet thrown their hat into electoral politics.

The number one question, she says, is also the most obvious one: How to get started?

Utilizing Resources

Jodie Barram ran against Jeff Eager for Bend City Council in November 2008, and lost. However, that December, a month before Eager took office, Councilor Bill Friedman died. Fellow councilors tapped Barram to fill the seat. Ironically, that meant she got to sit on the council and cast her vote to certify the results of the election she had just lost.

Prior to her election, Barram was not registered with a political party. But following the defeat of Measure 65 in 2008, which would have instituted top-two primary elections in Oregon and would have allowed independents to vote in all primary elections—except presidential elections—Barram registered as a Democrat.

She had reached out to both the local Democrat and Republican parties to inquire about candidate training. At the time, she says the only local partisan program she could find, geared toward women, was Emerge Oregon's six-month program. That steered her toward registering as a Democrat.

"I remember back then, someone saying that I couldn't win because I was just a mom and that made me mad," said Barram. "I think women walk a very different line than men when they are running for office and when they are in office. I think there's much more criticism."

Before her six years serving on the Bend City Council, Barram's background was primarily in bookkeeping, banking and running an organic cooking oil business with her father.

Barram says women tend to minimize their experiences, perhaps thinking a background in business or land use planning is a requirement for holding public office. In reality, she says, "in a representative government you have people from all walks of life."

"That was a big takeaway from Emerge, to encourage women to run so that other women can see themselves there," said Barram. "You become a leader without even realizing it."

Barram applied for Emerge in the fall of 2009 and was asked to attend an interview panel in Portland. The overall process took a few months before she was accepted. She found the communication and fundraising skills to be the most beneficial—and learned that asking people for money is challenging.

"I think the overall lesson I took away is getting out of your comfort zone is going to happen, so get comfortable with that," said Barram with a chuckle. "Because you're going to do it over and over again."

Emerge Oregon is currently interviewing applicants and will announce their selections for the 2018 program early next week. Visit emergeor.org to learn about future training events. The Deschutes County Republican Party offered an all-day seminar this past spring and plans on offering a candidate strategy seminar in January organized by the Leadership Institute.

Other useful resources:

About The Author

Keely Damara

Reporter | The Source Weekly

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