Emerge Maryland, the group dedicated to recruiting, training and electing Democratic women candidates, has been a major player on the political scene for the past several election cycles, tallying incremental yet significant victories during that time.
At a fundraiser in Pikesville Thursday night, the group celebrated one of the biggest institutional victories for women in the history of Maryland: the recent ascension of Del. Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) to the position of House speaker.
Jones is one of the most understated political leaders in the state, but she received a raucous heroine’s welcome from a giddy group of women (and a few men).
“Sometimes you don’t need to make a lot of noise to make your point,” said Del. Shelly L. Hettleman (D-Baltimore County), who opened her home for the fundraiser.
Freshman Del. Stephanie Smith (D-Baltimore City), a member of the Emerge Class of 2017 – and hoisting her 10-month-old son Spencer as she spoke – praised Jones’ commitment to education funding and equity, and her subtle leadership style. She called Jones “the education speaker.”
“What she’s doing is being done with a servant’s heart,” Smith said. “Because she’s not ego-driven.”
Jones immediately proved the point by talking not about herself, but about the power of women in the House Democratic Caucus. Of 99 House Democrats, 58 are women – and the number is about to go to 59 once Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) affirms the appointment of Catherine Forbes to fill a vacant Baltimore County House seat.
Jones also ticked off a long list of women holding leadership positions in the House.
“There are some men in there,” she laughed.
“Get rid of them, too,” a male voice rang out from the back of the room.
Jones said the atmosphere in Annapolis has changed considerably since she first arrived 22 years ago, when male legislators seemed eager to talk publicly, even when they had nothing to say.
The transformation hasn’t always been perceptible, Jones allowed, yet it is also hard to miss.
“Things change, and I’m going down the road, and I’m glad to be there,” she said.
All three lawmakers spoke about the role Emerge Maryland and the people who fund it have played in growing the roster of women serving in the legislature and in local government (the state’s congressional delegation, to the frustration of most women and men, is currently all male).
“It’s because of rooms like this that people like them can help elect women like me,” Smith said.
Hettleman said the leaders of Emerge have helped women get over their reluctance to run for office.
“While guys may have some of these same questions and self-doubt, they seem to get over it a lot faster,” she said.
Thursday’s fundraiser raised about $30,000, according to Diane Fink, the group’s executive director. Applications for the next Emerge Maryland class, which runs from November to May, are due on Saturday.