Last week I saw a post on Facebook stating that a station in Madison had aired a segment stating 75% of the town boards in Wisconsin lacked even a single woman. Today Politifact in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reviewed that statement and found it to be true.

To balance a program that included an appearance by a Republican state lawmaker, a Madison TV station interviewed Erin Forrest, the leader of Emerge Wisconsin.

The organization trains Democratic women to run for office.

Asked about women’s representation on elected bodies in the state, Forrest replied by saying, “horrifyingly underrepresented,” and she made several statistical claims, including this one:

“75 percent of the town boards in Wisconsin have no women on them at all.”

Emerge Wisconsin has been around for sometime now and has graduated a number of women through their program and a great number of them have run for public office. But I guess the question remains, why are so few women elected? And the raw numbers would include not only Democrats but Republicans and Independents. And I would hope that at the grass roots level, which town boards certainly are, it would be easier for a woman to make a campaign work. Small towns usually mean many people know their neighbors and community people personally.

But women continue to be under represented in Wisconsin elected bodies:

In Wisconsin, a town is the form of local government in areas that are not within the boundaries of cities or villages. About 30 percent of Wisconsin residents live in towns, according to the Wisconsin Towns Association.

Current as of 2015, it is the latest edition of a report that is produced every five years by the Wisconsin Women’s Council, a state body whose members are appointed by the governor and legislative leaders.

The report highlighted two findings in comparing 2015 to the first report, done in 2005:

23 percent of elected officials were women, up from 20 percent

3,100 women held elected office, up from 2,800

As for town boards, the report found, 75 percent of them had no women — the same as in 2005. ed; emphasis mine

So in ten years, Wisconsin made absolutely no progress in electing women to town boards…probably one of the most grass roots, close to the people governmental bodies in the state.

But the apologists point out that women are more likely to be represented in other elected positions…ones that sound like ‘women’s jobs’ from the title and probably have traditionally been more likely to be held by women in the past. But it’s the 21st Century and government should represent the population being represented.

Mike Koles, executive director of the Wisconsin Towns Association, said women are far more represented among town clerks and treasurers, the vast majority of which are elected positions.

One other fact that I want to pull out of the article:

State Legislature: 31 of the 132 members of the Wisconsin Legislature are women — with that 23.5 percent slightly below the national rate of 24.8 percent, according to a February 2017 report by the non-profit National Conference of State Legislatures.

Not much better there.

Check out the rest of the article as they go into excuses on why this is the status quo.

Now an action point or two for our readers.

If you are a woman. Consider running for local office or work with a friend or associate who is considering running for local office. Town board, city council, school board…whatever local boards appeal to your interests. And get involved with Emerge Wisconsin so that you can get the training you need to run a competitive campaign.

To all of our readers: contribute to Emerge Wisconsin so they can continue to do the work that they are doing to train Democratic women on how to run for office. Check them out here:

and DemTeam is run as part of the Democratic Party of Milwaukee County and trains all Democratic individuals who are interested in running for office or running a campaign could use contributions as well. They have another session coming up and offer scholarships to those in need. Check them out here: (disclosure: I am a DemTeam alum)

If readers are aware of other training opportunities for potential women candidates, please add the information in the comments section of this post.

And please encourage and support women who are interested in running for office. Not only will winning local elections bring new ideas and energy to local boards but we will be building a bench at the grass roots for future campaigns at the state and national levels.

Editor’s Note 4/10/2017: Two hours after I posted this blog, I got an email from the DPW with this additional information:

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin will be hosting a County Party Development Training in Waukesha on April 29th for any interested party members. This training is designed to highlight the ways that activists can get involved in local campaigns on a deeper level, from serving on a kitchen cabinet to recruiting candidates to organizing volunteers and managing canvasses. Click here to view the agenda for this training. More dates around the state will be announced soon. Click here to register!

Wisconsin Progress is beginning their “Getting Ready to Run” training series, with sessions scheduled in Steven’s Point, Chippewa Falls, Richland Center, Oshkosh, Waukesha, and Portage. The training is designed for anyone who is thinking about running for local and state office, and cover topics from how to know if you’re ready, to what to do once you decide to jump in! Click here to register!

EMILY’s List will be hosting a training on April 22nd in Milwaukee for pro-choice, Democratic women interested in running for office. Click here to register!

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