EMERGE-ing for the spring election in Wisconsin

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Photo: Courtesy Emerge Wisconsin

A series of surveys and counts released in recent weeks show that women continue, on average, to earn less than men for comparable work and to be under-represented in corporate corner offices, law firm partnerships, museum exhibits and art shows, Hollywood films, medical studies, IT management posts and, perhaps most notably, elected office.

The Women in Politics Map 2014 released by the Inter-Parliamentary Union and U.N. Women, for example, shows the number of women parliamentarians at a record 21.8 percent. The bright news from the U.N. survey? Women could achieve equal representation in the world's parliaments in less than 20 years. Just 10 years ago, IPU Secretary-General Anders Johnsson said he didn't think even his children would see gender parity in parliaments.

In the United States, surveys show that the number of women candidates has plateaued.

But Emerge America, a network in the United States with operations in at least 14 states, including Wisconsin, seeks to expedite gender parity in politics by identifying, training and promoting Democratic women who want to hold elected office.

On April 1, in the spring election, 14 Democratic women from Emerge Wisconsin's program are on local ballots. They include:

• Julie Allen for Lincoln County Board supervisor.

• Annette Ashley for Middleton-Cross Plaines Area School Board director.

• Carol Beals for Grant County Board supervisor.

• Leah Blough for Kenosha County Board supervisor.

• Carousel Andrea Bayrd, Jenni Dye, Mary Kolar and Pat McPartland for Dane County Board supervisor.

• Julie Jansch for Brown County Board supervisor.

• Tara Johnson for La Crosse County Board supervisor.

• Kimberly Kane for Racine City Council.

• Diana Lawrence for Outagamie County Board supervisor.

• Judy Smriga for Clark County Board supervisor.

• Mary Von Ruden for Monroe County Board supervisor and Sparta City Council.

EW executive director Wendy Strout says this is the second spring election in which the nonprofit saw 14 alumnae make ballots. A 15th Emerge Wisconsin competed in a primary earlier this year, and Emerge Wisconsin alumna Kelly Westlund is making a bid for Congress, seeking to unseat Republican Sean Duffy in the 7th District.

Emerge Wisconsin conducts intensive seven-month training programs. To date, about 56 percent of its alumnae have run for office and 59 percent of those candidates won their races.

“When there’s no parity, there’s lack of diversity,” says Blough, who was born Philippines. She adds, “If someone has something they are passionate about, that they want to change, they should run. You’d be surprised how people will respond.”

One winning Emerge Wisconsin alumna is Johnson, a veteran member of the La Crosse County Board, who encourages progressive women to get involved in local politics.

“It will give you a great understanding of how laws are made, how group-process happens in a political arena, how to do that work and then move up to the Assembly,” says Johnson, a member of the first county board in the state to vote for domestic partnership benefits for county employees.

When Johnson was involved in Emerge training, there were 18 students. “Now there are 25 every year,” she say. “And they know what they want to run for.”

Kane, who completed Emerge Wisconsin training in 2013, says the “experience made me think a lot more deeply about what it took to be a political leader. It also convinced me of the importance of supporting people (who) really do have what it takes.”

On the Web …

Emerge Wisconsin: www.emergewi.org

Wisconsin election information: www.myvote.wi.gov

Save the date …

Emerge Wisconsin holds its second annual Woman of the Year celebration, with honors for U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, on June 4. The event takes place at The Grain Exchange, 225 E. Michigan St., Milwaukee.

— L.N.

Photo: Courtesy Emerge Wisconsin

Kimberly Kane, Leah Blough and Tara Johnson