For the Tribune-Courier
While Susanna French and Barb Randall may lie on opposite sides of the fence politically, they are both champions of the push to involve more women in politics.
French has strong Democratic ties at the local and state level. Randall is a leader for the Republican Party. But both are advocates of the active participation of women in politics.
“Both parties are increasingly recruiting women candidates at all levels of government, which is creating a pipeline of qualified candidates for higher office and a culture of voters seeking women political leaders,” said French, who is active locally and at the state level with Emerge Kentucky, a Louisville-based group whose goal is to increase the number of Democratic women in public office.
Randall, who is president of the Marshall County Republican Women and also serves on the Executive Board of the Kentucky Federation of Republican Women as the 3rd Vice-President, said that her organization wants to give women a better understanding of the political process, not just to the women in the Republican Party.
“As more women are elected to office on the local and state levels, this brings awareness that there is a place for women in the political arena,” Randall said. “Politics demands a combination of qualities such as tolerance, moderation, diplomacy, emotional stability and devotion to the best interests of those that they are serving.”
At the state level, the announcement last week that Democratic Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes will challenge Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell next year made waves across the Bluegrass as she tries to unseat the five-term Republican.
“Secretary Grimes offers a refreshingly stark contrast to Senator McConnell’s 28 years in Washington,” French said. “The people of Kentucky are ready for new leadership. Secretary Grimes and her family have national reaching support and fundraising ability which is vital for a race against a long-time incumbent who comes to the table with millions of dollars at his disposal. Her likability and popularity throughout the Commonwealth is evident and her policies and values have placed her in favor with many groups including veterans, the coal industry, business owners, and voters in general.”
Randall agrees that the race between McConnell and Grimes will be important.
“It will be our job to educate the people on what each candidate stands for,” Randall said. “Personally, I believe that Grimes will follow President Obama’s agenda on destroying the coal industry, have a pro-choice agenda and promote Obamacare. To me this agenda will destroy the values that Kentucky was founded on. While as a woman I certainly support women in politics, ... ultimately the most important criteria is electing the most qualified person for the office.”
French serves on the Emerge Kentucky recruitment committee and has been asked to serve as vice chair of the board of directors of the Democratic women’s organization. Emerge Kentucky, which is a branch of Emerge America, is an organization designed to identify, recruit and train Democratic women to run for office. The program’s advisory board showcases star-power with the likes of former Kentucky Governor Martha Layne Collins, actress Ashley Judd and longtime state auditor Crit Luallen, who many feel will run for governor in the near future.
Emerge Kentucky classes, which are limited to 25 or fewer participants, are offered through the program to help candidates hone their skills. National and statewide speakers and trainers educate the Democratic women in fundraising, endorsements, public speaking, messaging and networking. Each member of the group also has a legislative day in which they shadow a legislator in Frankfort.
Last year, six candidates affiliated with Emerge Kentucky were on the ballot statewide in races ranging from local offices, school board positions, and state house and senate seats. All six Emerge candidates won their primaries. In the general election, nine of 11 Emerge candidates were victorious in their races.
“We work closely with many organizations and individuals to increase the number of women in Kentucky who are interested in serving in public office and have the necessary skills to win competitive races,” French said. “Emerge Kentucky is the only program of its kind in Kentucky that provides the necessary skills and the network to run and win. With Kentucky ranking so low in females holding public office, this program was much needed.”
French’s affiliation with Emerge Kentucky began in 2012 when the Marshall County native was asked to become a board member with the organization.
“I was thrilled to do so as I had advocated that program based on my passion for increasing the number of women in public office,” French explained.
French was president of Marshall County Democratic Women, which thrust her into congressional and statewide democratic women’s affiliations. In 2004, she was elected treasurer of the statewide Democratic Woman’s Club of Kentucky, which oversees all county Democratic women’s organizations. French held that position for four years and was elected president.
“After completing my term as state president, I was asked to run for the position of Southern Regional Director for the National Federation of Democratic Women,” she said. “That is the national organization that charters the statewide democratic women’s organizations and there are four regional directors that oversee the four regions of the nation, the southern region encompassing 13 states. I just completed my first term for that and was just re-elected to a second term (which is the limit) at the national convention in Charleston, W.Va.”
French is also an at-large elected member of the Kentucky Democratic Party State Central Executive Committee and chairman of the Fundraising Committee for the Kentucky Democratic Party.
Randall, who is retired from Marshall County Hospital as director of surgery, also serves on the Kentucky Roundtable which educates women on politics. She began her work for the party in 1992 when she and her husband, Russ, moved to Marshall County. They worked with Marshall Countians for Life and in 1994 were asked to work on Ed Whitfield’s campaign for Congress.
“Kentucky Roundtable gives women insight into what the responsibilities are for those who are elected to office,” Randall said. “The organization provides women the opportunity to travel to Washington D.C., to meet with their congressmen and to meet with other elected officials. The Republican Women and the Kentucky Republican Party provide various leadership and candidate forums.”
While both women are proponents of the push to draw more women into politics, make no mistake about their allegiance to their parties.
“My choice of party affiliation was drawn from various reasons, one being the labor movement as well as equality of women,” said French. “I believe that Democratic values best meet middle class and working families.”
“I support the Republican Party because of its party platform which supports life and believes that the strength of our nation lies with the individual and each person’s freedom, dignity and ability and that this responsibility must be honored,” Randall said. “The Republican Party believes in smaller government and wants this country to live by the Constitution on which this country was founded. Also I believe in traditional marriage which is one man and one woman, which the Republican Platform stands by.”