Emily’s List brings recruitment effort to Portland

October 21, 2017

The Portland Press Herald: Emily’s List brings recruitment effort to Portland

By Joe Lawlor

Since Donald Trump won the presidency last year, progressive women have expressed an overwhelming interest in running for office, say leaders of Emily’s List, a Washington advocacy group that recruits and assists pro-choice women to campaign for political office.

“This is big. This is a watershed moment for women in politics,” said Emily Cain of Orono, executive director of Emily’s List, during a training session for potential candidates Saturday at the Portland Public Library. About 25 women showed up to learn what it takes to run for office.

Cain, 37, said the previous high-water mark for Emily’s List recruitment was 2016, when the organization received interest from more than 900 women nationwide. Emily’s List has been recruiting candidates for more than 30 years, since 1985.

Since Trump’s victory last November – defeating former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – Emily’s List has gotten more than 19,000 potential candidate recruits for local, state and national offices.

“Not all of them will run, and most won’t run in 2018,” Cain said. “But this is the next wave.”

Cain is a former Democratic state lawmaker who lost in two attempts to represent Maine’s 2nd District in the U.S. House to Republican Bruce Poliquin in 2014 and 2016.

Republicans will have a similar recruitment effort in Maine for female candidates, with the “SHE Leads Fall Conference” Friday through Oct. 29 in Kennebunkport. Maine first lady Ann LePage, a keynote speaker at the fall conference, has been mentioned by conservative activists as a possible 2018 challenger to U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.

To inspire the crowd Saturday, organizers played a video with impassioned speeches by national female Democratic politicians, including some who could run for president in 2020, like U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Maine does not have a Democratic woman elected to statewide office, but U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, is serving her fifth term. On the Republican side, moderate U.S. Sen. Susan Collins was first elected to the Senate in 1996. Collins broke party ranks when she refused to support Trump’s bid for the presidency – she also did not support Clinton – and since Trump has assumed office, Collins has voted against the president on important issues, such as plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

In the Maine Legislature, about one third of the members are women. The national average is 25 percent.

“We may be ahead of the curve as a country in Maine, but we are still behind where we need to be in having women participate in government,” Cain said.

Trump offended many during the 2016 campaign when a 2005 “Access Hollywood” audio recording revealed Trump bragging about groping women.

“When you’re a star, they let you do it,” Trump said in the recording. Trump also took heat for calling Clinton a “nasty woman” during a presidential debate.

Since becoming president, Trump has taken controversial stands on issues that affect women, such as weakening rules that require health plans to offer free contraceptives and opposing federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides health care for women.

Kate Coyne-McCoy, who was running one of the training sessions on Saturday, told the women attending that “we need you” to run.

“If you don’t think you’re qualified, turn on C-SPAN and see what’s happening to your country. You’re very qualified,” Coyne-McCoy said.

Sarah Brydon of Portland said she had never thought about running for office before, but now she’s inspired to do so, although she doesn’t yet know what office she will seek.

Jessica Walker, 42, of South Portland said she first heard about Emily’s List from a “West Wing” television show episode. She plans to run for the City Council either in 2018 or 2019.

“Our city is changing quite a bit,” Walker said. “I’d like to be part of the change.”

And Natasha Irving, 34, of Waldoboro said she’s running for district attorney in 2018 representing midcoast Maine. Irving said she wants to reduce criminal recidivism.

“We’re throwing lots of folks in the county jail for very short amounts of time for small crimes,” Irving said. “We’re spending lots of money and not getting any results.”

Cain said while many Mainers are reserved, a person doesn’t have to be an extrovert to be a successful candidate.

“You can be reserved and learn to communicate and connect with people,” Cain said.

She told the women considering running that “it is never something you will ever regret. It’s the best work.”