AUGUSTA — An organization that hopes to increase the number of Democratic women serving as lawmakers at the State House in Maine announced 18 candidates for 2016 on Tuesday.

Emerge Maine, which conducts training and workshops for female, elected officials and candidates, announced the candidates — including 10 incumbents — during a news conference at the State House.

 “With 11 of our alumnae serving in the Maine State House, we’ve been very successful at winning legislative races,” Executive Director Jill Barkley said. “But only 29 percent of those currently serving in the Legislature overall are women. We know that 29 percent is not enough, which is why we are thrilled to announce our first round of candidates today who will help increase that percentage.”

Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, is among the Emerge Maine candidates seeking re-election.

Gideon, who is seeking her third term in the Maine House, asked those gathered to consider how Maine and America’s government might be different if women held greater percentages of the seats in the U.S. Congress and legislatures.

“If more women held office throughout history what would today’s American landscape actually look like?” Gideon asked. “Would adequate and affordable child care be available to all families? Would early childhood education for children regardless of income level be the norm instead of the exception? Would predictable work schedules, paid family leave and sick leave actually be available to working women? Would the minimum wage be instead a livable wage?”

Gideon said it would be hard to say for sure.

“But what we do know is that when women are legislating, women are advocating for women,” she said.

First-time candidate Tina Riley, a Democrat from Jay who is running for House District 74, said she wanted to run to help create and protect good-paying jobs in Maine and to also protect residents against steep property tax increases.

Riley, an electrician and mill worker, said a downturn in Maine’s paper industry has people in her community worried.

 “They want a representative in Augusta who will work hard to protect those jobs and keep their property taxes under control, and that is what I am prepared to do,” Riley said.

Also joining Gideon and Riley at the press conference was Rep. Heidi Brooks, D-Lewiston, and seven other incumbent female lawmakers from across Maine.

Republicans also have an organization, She Leads, that is aimed at recruiting female candidates for elected office.  

All 151 seats in the House and all 35 seats in the Senate are up for election in 2016.

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