Krista Pacion has long been attracted to Democratic politics, dreaming about her own seat in the Legislature or Congress some day.
She was first inspired as a Casa Grande high school senior by her government teacher who also happened to be then-Mayor Bob Mitchell. She filled out her first voter registration application even before she turned 18 to be sure she could take part in the next election. She’s getting married next month to a man she met as a volunteer for Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign.
But Pacion had only the vaguest idea of what it’s like to run for office. Fundraising, voter polls, dealing with the media — all were still a big mystery to her.
So the last six months have been eye-opening as Pacion and eight other women learned about election campaign building blocks through a program called Emerge Arizona. The training came from experts with day-to-day experience, including state lawmakers and some of Gov. Janet Napolitano’s closest advisers.
On Wednesday night, the governor finished their instruction with a "graduation" speech in downtown Phoenix.
"The political world isn’t as diverse as it could be," said Pacion, 29, a technical writer for Scottsdale-based Web site provider GoDaddy.com. "So seeing women in that role is good motivation and inspiration for women like me who have a goal of running for office and want to get more involved. We see it in action, so we know that it works."
Started three years in San Francisco, Emerge was created by Rep. Nancy Pelosi, DCalif., the House minority leader, to encourage more women to become party leaders and to seek office. Napolitano and other Arizona Democrats quickly saw potential in Pelosi’s idea and created their own version.
The focus of women leaders helping other women was key for Michelle Pulich Stewart, 33, a physical geography instructor at Mesa Community College.
Stewart said she has been a political activist since an early age. But she only recently took an interest in possibly seeking elected office after watching Republicans in Arizona and other states pursue what she considers some "outlandish" ideas.
So Emerge Arizona came along at the perfect time for Stewart to explore her opportunities as a Tempe resident. "Really, we’re all qualified to run if we care about the place that we’re in and want to make a difference," Stewart said. "But I didn’t know much about the actual strategy and how go through running a campaign."
The political training required the nine women to meet monthly. They studied everything from how to hire political consultants to the necessity of constantly repeating key phrases and messages in order to reach voters.