For Anne Carney, it all happened pretty fast.
A longtime attorney for Pine Tree Legal Assistance and active member of the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust, Carney was involved in local issues, but she had never seriously thought about running for office.
Then Donald Trump got elected president. Early the next morning, her 28-year-old daughter called from Boston, sobbing.
“She said, I could have seen myself starting a family in the next four years, but now I can’t imagine bringing a child into the world,” Carney, 55, recalled. “It shocked me and caused me to instantly feel like I needed to do something to create a country and a world where people felt more hopeful.”
As she researched her options, she realized her local House seat would be open.
“I instantly felt I had to give that a try,” she said. “I felt personally accountable when I realized the impact one individual over another had on my family.”
To get ready – and network – she attended an Emily’s List training seminar in October, and a regional Emerge boot camp in June.
Women have been underrepresented in politics for too long, she said. “It’s really important that everyone feels empowered to run for office, to have all genders and people of all backgrounds running for office.”
Businesswoman Allyson Cavaretta is pretty well known in the York and Ogunquit area, where she has long been active on town boards and charities and has raised money for local causes.
But it took a room full of strangers to convince her to run for office.
She’d gotten a call from Rep. Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, asking her to consider it: “She said go to She Leads, if you really want to know what this is about. Spend these 48 hours and learn.”
At the political training program for Republican woman, Cavaretta, 39, was convinced.
“That was the crystallizing moment for me, at She Leads. It was a room full of strangers … and I was surrounded by all the energy there. I thought, yep, this is the fit, I think this is it.”
“It’s impressive to see women come out and run,” Cavaretta said. “And whether you voted for or against Hillary (Clinton), you saw in it the opportunity. Maybe that was a light to people to say, you know, maybe I could do it.”
“I think that whether you are a man or a woman, it can be daunting to put yourself out there,” she said. But “if you have a calling to serve your community, you should be out there.
“You should find and use your talent.”
Anne Gass couldn’t sleep.
It was the night Donald Trump was elected president in November 2016, and she was lying there “awake all night.”
“I was thinking about what we would likely see happen in the coming year,” said Gass, 58, a grant writer and affordable housing advocate who lives in Gray.
By dawn, she had her answer: “I had been urged to run (for office) and I realized, now is exactly the right time. I felt very solid and confident in that decision.”
Although she has never run for office before, she’s no stranger to women and politics. She spent years researching and writing a book about her great-grandmother, a suffrage leader in Maine. She even retraced a cross-country journey suffragettes took in 1915, when they drove from the Pan Pacific Exposition in San Francisco to Washington, D.C., to deliver petitions to Congress and the president.
“I think women have been in subtle and not-so-subtle ways discouraged from entering politics,” she said. “We saw that happen in Hillary (Clinton’s) race for the presidency. We see that all over the place.”
“I’m very excited to see so many women are willing to step up at this point and say no more.”
The time feels right for her run, she said.
“There’s a real hunger for change and for going beyond party politics,” she said.
Abigail St. Valle, a recent college graduate who lives in Brooks, is thinking about what kind of world she wants for the children she hopes to have one day.
A Bernie Sanders supporter in the last presidential election, her political path has been a winding one. Raised in a conservative home – a farmer’s daughter – she went off to college as a registered Republican and was active with the Young Republicans.
Attending the University of Maine “opened my eyes to a world view, different walks of life,” said St. Valle, a 26-year-old one-time Blueberry Queen who became a registered Democrat. She fell in love and married a black man. She was inspired to get involved in politics by the campaign of Sanders, the independent Vermont U.S. senator who lost the Democratic presidential nomination to Hillary Clinton in 2016, but galvanized disenchanted young voters in the process.
“After his campaign, I realized, as a young woman, I would be eligible for a position (in politics,)” she said. “Before that, I didn’t feel empowered to take that position.
“Listening to him gave me the motivation.”
Now, the surge of women running for office “definitely encouraged me to run.”
As a candidate, she cares about net neutrality, affordable housing, health care and equal pay.
It’s up to her, St. Valle says, to help create the kind of world she wants for an interacial child.
“I’m standing up for my own beliefs and being a strong woman,” she said.
“And getting out there and not being afraid.”
Delaina Toothman is a political historian and she can see the writing on the wall. “We are living in a watershed time,” said Toothman, 52, a Texas transplant who came to Maine five years ago to get her doctorate at the University of Maine.
“Women have always been a backbone of politics. It’s just more public. Women are seeing they don’t have to be in the background,” she said.
Toothman has been active in Republican party politics, but hadn’t consider running. In fact, she didn’t really think it would be possible to run in Maine because she’s “from away.”
But party officials recruited Toothman, who lives in Old Town, and she went to a training session with She Leads.
As a historian, Toothman attributes the recent surge in women candidates to the natural evolution of more women being elected, heading up households and making economic decisions.
While attending the She Leads training, she also realized she’s not alone in her interest in holding political office.
But it was an upstart question that pricked her feminist pride that tipped Toothman into deciding to definitely run.
When she mentioned that she was considering becoming a candidate, the person asked her if it would interfere with her family.
“I left that conversation thinking, I can do this. I should quit making excuses about something I want to do,” Toothman said. “That’s a real female thing. But I want to do this.”