First step in getting women into public office is changing perceptions, national leader says

07/27/2011 09:57 AM

Kentucky politics are mostly a man’s world. That’s not much of a secret.

But one group is trying to change that.

Called Emerge Kentucky, the program is part of the Emerge America organization, which operates in nine states, including Kentucky. The group’s aim is to elect Democratic women to office. And by several measures, Kentucky is lacking women in elected positions.

Only one woman holds a leadership office in either chamber of the General Assembly, Republican state Sen. Katie Stine of Southgate, the President Pro Tem of the state Senate.

And female representation in either the Senate or state House still lags far behind population numbers.

There’s only been one female, Martha Layne Collins, to ever occupy the governor’s office.

In this fall’s general election, only two women remain, Democratic candidate for Secretary of State, Alison Lundergan Grimes, and Republican candidate for Treasurer, K.C. Crosbie. Both face men in their general election race.

Emerge Kentucky has had a few successes since starting more than two years ago and counts state Rep. Rita Smart of Richmond as a graduate of the program.

When the group held it’s second graduation ceremony earlier this summer, it was attended by Karen Middleton, the president of Emerge America.

Pure Politics sat down with Middletown when she was in Louisville to get her take on why more women aren’t in office and what her organization is doing to help solve the problem.

Operating in Arizona, California, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Wisconsin, Massachusetts and Maine, in addition to Kentucky, Middleton told Pure Politics about Emerge America’s training for Democratic women.

She described how the group encourages long-term support and encouragement to help women get elected.

Middletown, a former lawmaker from Colorado, also addressed a concern raised by Hilda Legg, a Republican candidate for Secretary of State who narrowly lost in this year’s primary to Bill Johnson.

In an interview on Pure Politics, Legg Legg that a lot of voters told her they wouldn’t cast a vote for her simply because she was a woman.

Middleton said women candidates face such prejudice because voters don’t view their senators or governors as women. But she said women actually do a better job of governing when elected.

But what can Kentucky do to change those perceptions and elect more women to public office? Middleton said programs like the one she’s involved in help. But she also said as long as gridlock happens and solutions aren’t acceptable, voters will turn to women to send to Frankfort and Washington D.C.

Middleton said there’s no theoretical line in the sand when it comes to measuring success of her organization or the advancement of women in politics.

But she said that getting women in office is a strong first step, not matter what level the office is, be it local, county or state. Getting a woman into office is the best way to get a woman to run for a higher office, like U.S. Senate, which is progress, Middleton said.

-Reporting by Kenny Colston, video production by Kyle Lizenby


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