This group wants to train Louisiana Democratic women to run for office

In a CNN report last weekend, journalists Mallory Simon and Kyung Lah documented record-breaking numbers of Democratic women who have expressed interest in running for political office. Here in Louisiana, a new group wants to bring that surge of progressive women candidates to electoral races statewide.

Emerge Louisiana is the local affiliate of Emerge America, which trains Democratic women candidates to effectively run for office. The local group currently is accepting applicants for its first class of trainees. The organization aims to shake up state politics by training women Democrats to be more competitive as candidates, even in more conservative-leaning rural areas.

“We see the success of women in New Orleans running for judicial positions … [after the New Orleans mayoral runoff election] our three biggest cities [in Louisiana] will all have mayors that are women of color,” Emerge Louisiana executive director Melanie Oubre says. “We just need to branch that out statewide.”

Emerge Louisiana’s program takes place over five weekend sessions and focuses on several aspects of campaigning. There’s an early emphasis on public speaking (“If you can’t communicate, you can’t win,” Emerge America founder and president Andrea Dew Steele says), as well as the nuts and bolts of running for office. There also are lessons on fundraising, how to run a field program, targeting voters, interfacing with the press and more; at one recent national training camp, participants practiced “dialing for dollars” as a trainer listened in.

Oubre says through fellow participants, program trainers and the group’s board of directors, alumnae will be plugged in to powerful social networks — an especially important asset in Louisiana, which is known for its dynasties and complex alliances.

“[Our trainees will connect to] the ‘who’s who’ of Louisiana politics that, say, the schoolteacher in Monroe who wants to run for school board would never have had an opportunity to meet,” Oubre says.

Steele founded Emerge America in 2002 with the insight that, in her opinion, Democratic women candidates were faltering because they lacked effective political training. According to Steele, of the program’s 3000 graduates, 500 are currently serving in office. (Though Emerge America and its affiliates are Democratic, there are similar programs, like She Should Run, which are nonpartisan.)

Steele says women who are successful in Emerge programs usually think of themselves as having a lot of energy, and have had some experience being active in their community — whether that be via the school board, a neighborhood association or through a cause that’s important to them, such as working with an organization fighting domestic violence.

“Maybe they haven’t done as much as they would like, but they have done something and want to continue,” Steele says. “[We just want to see] something to demonstrate that they don’t sit at home watching Game of Thrones every night.”

Emerge Louisiana kicked off with a launch party Nov. 2. People who identify as women can apply for its programs through Nov. 18; tuition is $750, but some assistance is available for applicants with demonstrated financial need. Both Oubre and Steele say the program is committed to diversity, and hope to select trainees that reflect the demographics of Louisiana’s citizenry. Women of color and who are immigrants are especially encouraged to apply.

For its graduates, Oubre says the program has its eye on several term-limited offices in the state in 2019. She thinks the state of national politics may play a hand in that election.

“I think what’s happening in D.C. is going to be a topic here,” she says. “Women across the state are not liking what they’re seeing from the White House, and they’re more motivated than ever to make some changes.”