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Crash course teaches women to run for political office

Gina DuQuenne found out much of what she needed to run for political office was already contained inside her cellphone.

She could mine her wealth of contacts to find people willing to help her run a successful campaign.

“I had no idea the connections I had right in my cellphone,” DuQuenne said.

The Ashland resident learned the handy trick during Emerge America training for women interested in running for political office. The national group aims to increase the number of Democratic women in public office through recruitment, training and networking.

The first group of Southern Oregon recruits graduated this month from six weeks of intensive training in which they met once or twice each week for a full day.

“There were 11 of us. I didn’t know anybody in the room,” DuQuenne said. “When I left, I felt like I’d gained 10 sisters. We all went in green and walked out with a lot of direction.”

The senior sales manager for Neuman Hotel Group, which includes the Ashland Springs Hotel, is planning a run for Ashland City Council in the 2020 election.

“I never thought growing up in South Central Los Angeles that I would have an opportunity to run for office,” DuQuenne said. “My mom was a single mom who raised all four of us girls on her own. Coming from a low-income background gave me a different perspective. I thought everyone had a mom who worked two jobs.”

Although she has experience as a board member of business and social services groups, founded Southern Oregon Pride and was appointed to the Ashland Housing and Human Services Commission, DuQuenne didn’t know how to run for political office before the Emerge training.

“Ignorance is bliss. You don’t really know what you’re getting yourself into,” she said.

But after absorbing the avalanche of information from the training, DuQuenne said she feels confident about her ability to campaign.

Grants Pass resident Mary Middleton, another recent graduate, said she has long wanted to hold political office.

“It feels like a calling that won’t stop. I would think, ‘You’d probably be good at it, but you don’t know how,’” she said.

Middleton said the women learned how to talk about themselves and tell a story, what needs to go on their campaign websites, the order of tasks in a campaign and much more.

“At times there was so much information I was overwhelmed,” she said. “Other times it totally fired me up, and I was inspired to get going and get on it.”

Middleton, executive director of Oregonians for Safe Farms and Families, said she expects to file for a state level elected position before the end of the year, but isn’t ready to disclose yet which office.

Whether in politics or the job market, she said women sometimes hesitate to put themselves forward, even when they’re qualified.

The Emerge training gives them the confidence to envision themselves succeeding and the knowledge to campaign well, she said.

“I’m proud to call myself a graduate of the Southern Oregon Emerge training. The women I met were absolutely amazing and dynamic,” Middleton said. “Women are stepping up to the challenge of helping us to change and bring society back together. Everything is so polarized right now. Having women be part of the solution is a great thing to happen.”

Nationally, organizations that train female candidates of all parties report more women are interested in running for office, whether they’re Democrats, Republicans or belong to another party.

Jessica Gomez, incoming president for Jackson County Republican Women, said local Republicans will be looking to offer candidate training for both men and women, plus separate training to address issues that impact women more.

Gomez faced off against Democrat Jeff Golden for Oregon State Senate District 3 in the November 2018 election, a race Golden won.

“People perceive you differently as a female candidate,” Gomez said. “Communication style makes a big difference. Women have to think about how they dress and proper makeup for TV. Those might seem like frivolous things, but they are actually important. How do you present yourself in the most professional manner so your message is heard and so nothing distracting about you detracts from your message?”

Gomez said she had no training before she made her bid for office and had to learn as she went.

“There’s no substitute for going through the process, but the more upfront work you can do, the better,” she said.

Advance preparation can make campaigning less stressful for candidates and their families, Gomez said.

“It does make a difference in terms of your level of confidence,” she said.

Jackson County Commissioner Colleen Roberts, a Republican, said the Democrats’ effort to train Southern Oregon women to run is a savvy move.

Roberts said anyone interested in running for political office would benefit from training, regardless of gender or political affiliation. She learned how to campaign largely by running for county commissioner, winning and then mounting a second successful campaign to win re-election.

“Anyone who’s running for political office needs to know what’s expected. You learn by fire. It would be better to have information in advance,” Roberts said.

She said she’s long wanted to go to a national women’s leadership conference for elected officials, but hasn’t yet found the time. Even with five years in office under her belt, Roberts said she could gain insights.

“You don’t know what you don’t know. Knowledge is power,” Roberts said.

Meanwhile, Talent resident Isabella Tibbetts is aiming high after going through the Emerge training for Democratic candidates.

At 28, she was the youngest woman at the Southern Oregon training sessions.

“I was so impressed by the diversity of the class and the amount of knowledge and experience that was there,” she said. “We were able to bring a lot of different strengths to the group.”

Tibbetts will be among a pool of candidates vying to replace U.S. Representative Greg Walden. The longtime Congressman, a Republican, announced in October he will not seek re-election in the November 2020 election.

Born in Ecuador and adopted as a baby by a Rogue Valley family, Tibbetts is a community organizer and climate activist. She can’t run for president since she wasn’t born in America, so she’s set her sights on Congress. Candidates for the House of Representatives must be citizens and live in the state they want to represent, but they don’t have to have been born inside the country.

Tibbetts acknowledged some people have advised her to run for local office to gain experience first, but she wants to see Congress better reflect the diversity of today’s America.

“It will be an incredible learning experience, regardless of the outcome,” she said. “If I lose, it’s setting me up to enter future races. I’ve always had the mindset, ‘Go big or go home.’”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

Editor's note: Jessica Gomez's title has been corrected from an earlier version of this article.

Gina DuQuenne walks through downtown Ashland Thursday. DuQuenne recently completed training for women interested in running for political office. Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune