The Good Ol’ Girls Club

Program recruits, trains Democratic women to run for political office

Erin Bilbray-Kohn is working to create what she calls a “good ol’ girls club” in Nevada politics. As the executive director of Emerge Nevada, a program founded in 2006 to recruit and train Democratic women to run for local, state and federal offices, she’s off to an impressive start. Earlier this month, 12 Emerge graduates won in the primary election.

“We always talk about Nevada having its good ol’ boys club,” Bilbray-Kohn says. “We’ve got our good ol’ girls club, but they’re all such fabulous, fine women that are really trying to create progressive change for the state.”

The United States ranks 84th in the world for having women in elected office, trailing countries such as Mexico, China and Pakistan; and women represent just 17 percent of the U.S. Congress despite making up 51 percent of the country’s population Emerge is working to change that.

The nonprofit group raises about $40,000 a year from donors to train women. To date, 60 have graduated from the seven-month program, dedicating one Saturday a month to learn about communications, ethics, the endorsement process, fundraising, media interaction and more. Five of those women have gone on to hold public office: Assemblywoman Ellen Spiegel, Washoe County Commissioner Kitty Jung, Sparks Councilwoman Julia Ratti, Clark County District Judge Kathleen Delaney, and Douglas County school board member Cindy Trigg.

Bilbray-Kohn, who is also the national committee woman for the Democratic Party of Nevada, says the program’s goal is to improve government by encouraging a greater diversity of thought.

“This is not about feminism where we’re trying to replace men,” she says. “We’re just trying to create good government by bringing in different perspectives.”

Tammy Peterson is one of the good ol’ girls. The Democratic candidate for state Senate District 8 graduated in Emerge’s first class, in 2007. She credits the program not only with her campaign success thus far, but for inspiring her to run. “It made the whole process a little less daunting, and really was the reason I felt comfortable running,” Peterson says.

Irene Bustamante Adams, winner of the Democratic primary for the Assembly District 42 seat, is a part of Emerge’s 2010 class. She regards her success and that of other Emerge graduates as a sign of what’s to come—and an inspiring message for future generations, including her 11- and 15-year-old daughters.

“I feel very, very hopeful for my two girls,” Adams says, “that they’re going to actually be surrounded by women in public office and their generation will see the fruit of the labor that was laid for them.”

Emerge Nevada Graduates Who Advanced To The General Election

  • Assemblywoman Ellen Spiegel, Class of 2007
  • Tammy Peterson, candidate for state Senate, Class of 2007
  • Nancy Allf, candidate for judge, Class of 2008
  • Washoe County Commissioner Kitty Jung, Class of 2008
  • Betty Hicks, candidate for Washoe Commission, Class of 2009
  • Gloria Sturman, candidate for judge, Class of 2009
  • Diana Alba, candidate for county clerk, Class of 2010
  • Irene Bustamante Adams, candidate for Assembly, Class of 2010
  • Lynn Goya, candidate for Assembly, Class 2010
  • Susan Scann, candidate for judge, Class of 2010
  • Michele Schafe, candidate for Clark County assessor, Class of 2010
  • Laurie Bisch, candidate for sheriff, Class of 2010