24 women graduate from Democratic leadership program

FRANKFORT — Kentucky voters might not know the names Wanda Hammons or Brenda Mannino now, but they might someday.

They were among 24 women who graduated Saturday from Emerge Kentucky, a political leadership training program that aims to prepare Democratic women to run for public office.

"I feel like I can make a difference and a change," Hammons, of Dry Ridge, said after the graduation ceremony, which was held at the Kentucky Democratic Party's headquarters in Frankfort.

She ran for Grant County magistrate in November and was defeated, but she said completing the Emerge Kentucky training has made her much better prepared for her next campaign.

"It's been a great program," Hammons said. "The biggest thing and the best thing is the networking."

Participants in the program, which is part of the national Emerge America movement, receive more than 70 hours of training in how to run a campaign, from public speaking to fund-raising. They meet with national political consultants and women who have been elected.

Each commits to run for public office at the local, state or federal level within five years.

"We're here to change the face of Kentucky politics," said Jennifer Moore, board chairwoman for Emerge Kentucky. "We are underrepresented in our General Assembly, and we are underrepresented in our local offices."

Kentucky ranks 41st among the states for the proportion of women in the state legislature, according to the Center for Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

Mannino, of Lexington, said Emerge Kentucky has given her "wonderful tools" for running a campaign, and she appreciated "words of wisdom from other female elected officials."

Mannino said she serves on the executive committee for the Fayette County Democratic Party and has helped with other candidates' campaigns. But she might one day run for Urban County Council or the state House of Representatives herself.

"Who knows?" she said with a smile.

State Rep. Rita Smart, D-Rich mond, graduated from the program's first class last year and attended Saturday's graduation ceremony.

Smart said she had served one term as a city commissioner in Richmond and was running for state representative when she participated.

"This program gave me not only the knowledge and the skills but also the confidence" to run for state office, she said.

Moore said Smart's success stands as "a testament to what can be accomplished in a short amount of time."

Karen Middleton, president of Emerge America, told the graduates that they shouldn't hesitate about running for office.

"If you think you're not ready ... turn on CSPAN. There are folks in the U.S. Senate, in the U.S. legislature. ... They are not any smarter. They are not any faster," she said. "You can do it. We need you to do it. You are ready to go now."