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Emerge Pennsylvania names first executive director

Anne Wakabayashi's goal is 'electing smart, qualified women to every level of government'

Anne Wakabayashi, right, executive director of Emerge Pennsylvania, poses with Karen Hartshorn Hilton, senior advisor at Emerge America. - (Photo / Submitted)

Pennsylvania has never elected a woman governor or U.S. senator.

And the state ranks 39th of the 50 states in the percentage of women elected to its state legislature.

These are the kind of statistics Anne Wakabayashi is looking to change.

Wakabayashi has been named the first executive director of Emerge Pennsylvania, a statewide organization that aims to boost the number of Democratic women to win public office.

Before joining Emerge Pennsylvania, Wakabayashi served as campaign manager for a Philadelphia City Council and a state Supreme Court campaign. She also has been political director and communications director for the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Campaign Committee.

“I’ve worked across the state, and I’ve seen firsthand the importance of electing smart, qualified women to every level of government,” Wakabayashi said. “Women bring a unique and essential voice to public service, and we need to do more to ensure that voice is heard across the Commonwealth.”

During the federal government shutdown in 2013, it was the women in the Senate who got the government back on track, she said, adding, “I think we can all agree that Harrisburg, which has now gone 160 days without a (state) budget, could benefit from more women.”

Since its national start in 2002, Emerge has trained more than 1,500 Democratic women to run for office.

“Emerge America has a fantastic track record of success in 14 other states, where hundreds of alumnae are now in office. Pennsylvania absolutely needs this program,” said State Rep. Mary Jo Daley, co-founder and co-chairwoman of Emerge Pennsylvania. “Emerge has changed the culture of other state legislatures, and Harrisburg demonstrates time and time again that it is desperately in need of an evolution.”

Emerge has graduated 1,500 Democratic women, and 52 percent of them have run for office or been appointed to local boards or commissions, its officials said.

Wakabayashi, a California native who has lived in Harrisburg and Philadelphia, said in an interview Monday morning that to get to the goal of having a female U.S. senator or governor from Pennsylvania, Emerge seeks to have more women serving at the local level. “We’re starting from the ground up,” she said.

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