Groups try to even out Kentucky government by helping more women run for office

06/20/2012 07:28 AM

Women are woefully underrepresented in Kentucky’s government as they are in most of the other states even though women outnumber men and tend to vote more reliably.

Two groups in Kentucky are trying to change that by training women to run for office and get more involved in government and politics.

Emerge Kentucky, a program for Democratic women, will graduate its 2012 class of 25 women on Saturday at the Kentucky Democratic Party headquarters in Frankfort, said Elizabeth Sawyer, executive director of Emerge.

And the Kentucky Republican Women’s Roundtable will pick up with its new class this fall starting with remarks from a nationally-known speaker to be named later, said Gail Russell, the group’s president and a member of the first class of women to go through the program that was founded in 2002 by Cathy Bailey, the Louisville philanthropist and former U.S. Ambassador to Latvia.

Both Russell and Sawyer talked about the programs on Pure Politics on Tuesday:

Both groups boast success stories. Republican state Reps. Kim King of Harrodsburg and Donna Mayfield of Winchester participated in the GOP roundtable group, while Democratic Rep. Rita Smart of Richmond is an Emerge Kentucky graduate, while two legislative candidates in November — Kelly Whitaker of Graves County and Wanda Crupper Hammons in Grant County — are running for open state House seats.

Women are outnumbered in every top level of Kentucky government. They account for just 26 of 137 current legislators, two of seven Supreme Court justices, four of 12 cabinet secretaries and one constitutional officer — Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.

And only one out of the 16 legislative leaders is a woman: Republican Sen. Katie Stine of Southgate who serves as state Senate president pro-tem.

In the second interview segment, Sawyer and Russell talked about how women in leadership could steer Kentucky in a different direction, as well as some of the other political undertones involving gender, such as the “war on women” phrase that popped up this spring during national debates over contraception and the latest push for a federal law requiring equal pay between the genders.

For more information about the groups, you can find contact information for Gail Russell and the Kentucky Republican Women’s Roundtable here. And contact information for Elizabeth Sawyer and Emerge Kentucky on the program’s site, which Sawyer said is in the process of being revamped.

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