When Diane Fink gets you on the phone, she’s ready to recruit you to run for office. As one of the founders of Emerge Maryland, an organization that recruits and trains women to run for local office, she can’t turn it off — her passion for placing women on the ballot runs deep, beginning with her own campaign for Frederick County Democratic State Central Committee in 2006 and underscored by her group’s emphasis on female empowerment, encouraged by the 2016 election and Hillary Clinton.
Elsewhere in the state, Kathryn Jerrard of the Maryland Federation of Republican Women is also on the campaign trail on behalf of others. “We strive to elect Republican women to office,” Jerrard says. “We try to do this while having fun, keeping in mind our values and why we are Republicans, and what we hold dear.”
Though their politics differ considerably, both Fink and Jerrard represent a larger trend in national elections. More women than ever are expected to be on the ballot in 2018, representing both sides of the aisle (and for some, neither of the two national parties).
“We went from the first two years of maybe getting 40 applicants a year to 80 applications after the 2016 election,” says Fink about Emerge’s 75-hour, seven- month training program that aims to take women from citizen to office holder. “It takes a special kind of person to run for office.”
Take, for example, Lorig Charkoudian and Stephanie Smith, both graduates of the Emerge training program and candidates for delegates of their respective districts. The pair say they’re not largely motivated by the national partisan divide, but by the issues they see as requiring attention in their state.
“We tend to pretty consistently elect Democrats,” says Charkoudian, a candidate for delegate in Montgomery County and the executive director of Community Mediation Maryland. “The focus is really on the primary.”
Smith, assistant director in Baltimore City’s Department of Planning and a candidate running for delegate in Northeast Baltimore, agrees: “I can only speak for myself, but for me (partisanship) is not really a factor. It’s the issues that people care about. In a state that’s largely Democratic, and particularly in Baltimore, there was some level of novelty in voting for [Republican Gov. Larry Hogan]. But people have seen some of the issues they care about — red lining, the environment — fall off.”
“The question in this district is who’s going to be effective in Annapolis,” Charkoudian explains. “You may be able to count on an elected official to vote in the way you believe, but as folks who have been involved in this know, it’s not just about the vote. It’s about who can bring new ideas into the system, who can work with the state agencies. It’s about who’s working with folks both across the aisle and within the party.”
While midterm elections usually don’t draw large turnouts, this year may be an exception. Every election has its own dynamic, says Jennifer Bachner, director of the master’s program in government analytics at Johns Hopkins University and author of “What Washington Gets Wrong.”
Some midterm elections are driven by national politics, while others are heavily influenced by local issues. This year, she says, “I anticipate the influence of national politics to be very strong, as President Trump evinces strong feelings from both Democrats and Republicans.”
The economy is big on voters’ minds, too, she says. Here in Maryland, that includes the hope that Amazon will open a second headquarters in Montgomery County, and Gov. Hogan’s efforts to secure that deal may “carry a lot of weight” with both Democrats and Republicans, she says.
Both Charkoudian’s and Smith’s issues of focus tend to encompass equity and inclusion; Charkoudian advocates for both environmental and economic justice, while Smith seeks improvement of city schools. When talking about their socially minded missions, their language is uncannily similar, likely the result of their collective training through Emerge.
“Wanting to run for elected office is not for the faint of heart,” Smith says, “but there was a big advantage [with Emerge], being with people that understood the unique challenges mothers and working women face.”
While her own candidacy focuses more on infrastructure, defense and business development, to name a few, Maryland Federation-supported congressional candidate Amie Hoeber, a Republican, also spoke of the importance of motherhood in her decision to run for office.
“I am a mother, I am a grandmother, I have raised five stepsons,” she says. “And I have the depth of experience, knowledge and expertise that comes from having a long, successful career.”
Despite party affiliations, the candidates agree: Women’s voices are critical in 2018.
“We clearly need more women in politics,” Charkoudian says. “We need to be paying attention. We need to be actively asking why there aren’t more women.”
Hoeber echoes this, “We are, in fact, more than 50 percent of the population, and one of the reasons why I should be elected in Maryland is because there are no women in the entire Maryland congressional delegation. I think more than 50 percent of the population needs to have some representation, but they also need a role model for the younger women. They need to know that women can win this job and can do it well.”
In fact, Hoeber says she supports the advancement of women on all sides of the aisle.
“I think women, by nature, are more empathetic and more cooperative, and I think what we need in our political world today is a far greater sense of empathy and cooperation and finding mutual ground where we can agree. I think we have gotten so polarized that people no longer even listen to people on the other side, and I feel strongly that women are better at [listening] than men. For example, I go to a fair number of meetings here in my district that are largely Democrat, and I go, and I tell them I’m there because I want to show them that I am a reasonable person and I am willing to listen to their ideas and what they say so we can have some rational, mutual conversations about it.”
Smith, too, touts an emphasis on equity that includes gender parity. “I’m not about giving lip service, I’m about extending access to resources and power. When people hear about equity, they worry about losing. It’s not a zero-sum game. We just need more ‘more’ for everyone,” she says.