Emerge Connecticut Aims to Elect Democratic Women to State Office

The new Connecticut chapter of a national organization aimed at electing Democratic women is hoping activists energized by the election of President Donald Trump will consider running for state office.

Emerge Connecticut is accepting applications from interested candidates through Jan. 6. The program will provide a wide variety of training to would-be officeholders, including help with messaging and fundraising.

State Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Danielson, and the group’s executive director, said Trump’s election “really shocked a lot of people,” but the massive Women’s March on Washington two months later made women realize “that we could be a force.”

“Connecticut’s Democratic women are a sleeping giant awakened,” said Secretary of State Denise Merrill, one of three women who holds statewide office in Connecticut. “And it’s about time.”

Women hold fewer than 30 percent of the seats in the state legislature, even though they make up 51 percent of the state’s population.

Merrill and Flexer were joined by Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and board members of Emerge Connecticut. The small group spoke to reporters in the cold outside the state Capitol building, beneath a statue of Ella Grasso, the first woman elected as a governor whose husband did not previously serve in the office.

One of those board members is Yolanda Castillo, who was elected last month as the first Hispanic member of Manchester’s board of directors, where women now hold a majority of seats for the first time. Republicans and Democrats each included four women in among their slate of six candidates.

“In Connecticut, we’ve got to get our women of diversity to be a part of this and learn the importance of being a leader and making an impact in our communities,” said Castillo, who served on the Hartford City Council during the 1990s. “It’s time. It’s no longer sitting on the side and helping, now we’re going to be leaders.”

Across Connecticut, women made political gains during last month’s municipal elections— not just in Manchester, but in Greenwich, where women won about half the seats on the 230-member Representative Town Meeting, and in Bristol, where Ellen Zoppo-Sassu was elected the first female mayor. The results in the state were reflective of a national trend.

Though Emerge Connecticut is recruiting Democrats to run for office, the House Republicans in Connecticut have the most women members of any caucus at 22. The House Democrats have 21 women, there are two women Republicans in the Senate and the Senate Democrats count seven women among their members.

Wyman said she’d like to see a similar push by Republicans to find women who are interested in running.

“I really hope that the Republicans get an Emerge. … I don’t care, we need women in politics,” she said.

Nationally, Emerge America says candidates that complete its training program have a 73 percent win rate. The group plans to select between 20 and 25 women for its first class in Connecticut. More information is available at www.faceboook.com/EmergeCT.

A second group aimed at electing women to the state legislature, PoliticaCT, held a kickoff event at the state Capitol earlier this month.