Former leaders of disbanded candidate training organization Emerge Colorado start new group after split from national organization

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Lisa Calderón speaks during Denverite’s People’s Forum mayoral debate at the Carla Madison Rec Center. March 7, 2023.

Less than two months after the Democratic organization Emerge America, which is devoted to helping female candidates get elected to office, severed ties with its Colorado affiliate, the branch’s former staff are forming a new group.

Organizers of Women Uprising say the goal is to create a new model to challenge the status quo in politics and train non-traditional candidates from communities that have historically been left out of the decision making process. 

“I've worked in Colorado politics for a long time where there are a lot of gatekeepers who keep progressive candidates from competing fairly against establishment candidates,” said Kat Traylor, chair of Women Uprising’s board of directors, in an email announcing the new organization.

Lisa Calderón, who formerly led the local affiliate Emerge Colorado, will head Women Uprising, and said the new non-profit will have complete authority over the brand and messaging. They’re getting funding from the State Democracy Project, an umbrella organization for a number of groups on the left, including and Planned Parenthood of America, and will collaborate with the Colorado Working Families Organization. 

She emphasized that women candidates would not have to pay for the training and mentorship.

“Emerge requires women to be registered Democrats and pay tuition,” said Calderón in a text message. “We have eliminated those requirements which is a huge shift. This will allow our trainings to be accessible to the masses of women who would otherwise not be able to afford to pay for training.”

The group said dropping the Democratic party affiliation requirement will open up trainings to include the state’s vast number of unaffiliated voters. The goal is to attract women candidates who share the group’s support for the labor movement, renter's rights, disability accessibility, and government accountability issues. 

Emerge America, the national organization, said earlier this summer that it severed ties with the Colorado affiliate after receiving multiple complaints about the management and following an extensive investigation. The organization said at the time that it planned to continue to have a presence in the state.

In a demand letter, Emerge Colorado argued the national organization was using the pretext of an investigation to derail contract negotiations with Emerge Colorado and other independent chapters, with the goal of eventually eliminating independent chapters entirely. Calderón said Emerge Colorado staff were never given the results of the investigation or the complaints that prompted it.

Democratic state Sen. Faith Winter was Emerge Colorado’s first executive director in 2014. Since that time, the group has had numerous high profile alums, including Secretary of State Jena Griswold, three state senators, 18 state representatives, and many local elected officials. 

While Colorado has never elected a woman as U.S. senator or governor, the last legislative session began with a historic number of female legislators. Last session, the three top House leaders were women, for the first time in state history. 

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include Emerge Colorado’s description of what led to the end of its relationship with Emerge America.