“Inspiring, and a little bit overwhelming,” Maine’s Jill Barkley calls the big wave of national political activity she’s navigating now.

“Since the (2016 presidential) election, people in 24 states have reached out to us to ask about establishing Emerge America programs.”

In March, Barkley became the Affiliate Director of Emerge America, whose stated goal is “to increase the number of Democratic women in public office.”

To that end, EA affiliates in member states – there are 18 at present, and seven more in development – provide 70 hours of training to Democratic women who are planning to run for elective office, or are considering doing so. In her new position, it’s Barkley’s job to help launch EA programs in new states, and “to make sure that their executive directors and boards have all the support and training that they need to succeed.”

Barkley spoke on the phone recently during a break from weeklong EA work in her native Michigan. “When Michigan decided to start a program, I wanted to be part of it,” she explains.

Barkley knows about success. Since January 2014 she had served as Executive Director of Emerge Maine, working with an active board of directors, and alumnae, overseeing the six-month training programs that the organization runs for as many as 25 women every year.


“In the last three Maine graduating classes, 65 percent of the women have already run for office, as is the goal, and we’ve averaged about a 70 percent win rate,” she said. “In Maine, we won 18 of 25 races last year.

“In 2016, Emerge America averaged a 70 percent win rate, and of those candidates, 39 percent were women of color.”

Emerge Maine has trained almost 200 women since it was founded a decade ago. Among its graduates, Barkley mentioned, are Speaker of the House Sara Gideon of Freeport, House Majority Leader Erin Herbig of Belfast, and State Sen. Shenna Bellows of Manchester, a former U.S. Senate candidate.

Other significant Maine EA figures include Emily Cain, a founding member who “emerged before Emerge” to serve in both Maine House and Senate, 2004-2012, more recently losing the 2nd District Congressional races in 2012 and 2014. On May 18, Emerge Maine honored Cain as its 2017 Woman of the Year.

Barkley is also a Maine EA grad (2009). She lost a House bid to independent Ben Chipman in 2010, but calls that effort “a really good experience”

together with her first-hand education in the candidate training (all by women) process. This involves public speaking and communication, fund-raising, ethical leadership, campaign strategy and more. “Everyone leaves knowing how to set up a campaign staff and deploy volunteers,” she said.


Barkley credited Elizabeth Reinholt, former Democratic Party communications director, and Attorney General Janet Mills as among the frequent EA trainers who “believe in the mission” and can advise women on handling sometimes unwelcome tasks such as knocking on doors or asking for money. (As a partisan nonprofit, EA is a 527 organization, funded by donations, other political entities, and PACs.)

Looking ahead, and while “developing a 50-state strategy goal,” Barkley is excited about Emerge America’s expansion into Southern states, “a demographic not always given the attention it needs and deserves. At a conference in Alabama a couple of weekends ago, 100 women showed up – despite the tornado. So that’s extremely encouraging.”

Barkley expressed the highest degree of confidence in her successor as Emerge Maine Executive Director, Sarah Skillin Woodard of Freeport. “The best thing is, Sarah doesn’t need any advice from me! She’s an astute organizer, politically well-connected, she went through our program, she’s an experienced fund-raiser … She’s going to do great.”

The Emerge Maine training program runs from September through March. The application deadline for this year’s class is June 15. To apply, and for more information on EA, on please visit www.emergemaine.org.

These monthly profiles are brought to you by Lee Auto Malls. The Lee family is committed to supporting local organizations that work to sustain Maine communities.

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