More women are getting elected in Utah

SALT LAKE CITY – When it comes to women in US politics, men hold far more elected office than women. In Utah, the gender gap is slightly wider. But a shift began in this most recent election, as more and more women mayors took office — many of them the first elected mayor in their city’s history.

“When women run, they usually win,” said Pat Jones, former state assemblyman and CEO of the Women’s Leadership Institute. She says about 17 percent of Utah cities have a woman mayor.

When asked why more balanced representation was so important, Jones replied: “When I was in the research industry, over the years we looked at all sorts of issues and found that on issues like education and education funding, for example, there was a big gap between There are genders, health care, gun issues, environmental issues — you can just walk down the line and you would see anywhere from a 5 percent to 25 percent difference.”

West Valley City sworn in its first-ever female mayor earlier this month. Mayor Karen Lang says she hasn’t seen gender roles as a barrier in any of her previous positions, and that still isn’t the case with her.

“I was lucky. I didn’t have any breakpoints based on gender,” she said.

Lang worked in a lumberyard and then built her own company before getting involved in politics.

While the proportion of female to male mayors in the state as a whole is still low, six of the state’s 10 largest cities are led by women. These include Salt Lake City, West Valley, Provo, Sandy, St. George and South Jordan.

1 Salt Lake City
2 west valley
3 West Bank
4 provo
5 Orem
6 Sandy
7 St George
8 Ogden
9 South Jordan
10 Layton

Mayor Michelle Kaufusi of Provo is now in her second term and is the city’s first elected mayor.

“I went over and found the ‘Wall of Mayors,’ and there were 44 wonderful, strong male mayors on that wall and not a single woman,” Kaufusi said. “So I was like, ‘I’m going to work really hard for a year and still keep my other chosen position and just see if I can break that glass ceiling because I want my daughters and all daughters to know that this isn’t just is a men’s club.”

When asked why she didn’t think more women were running for office, she said she thinks a lot of women just get comfortable with playing a supporting role and it’s uncomfortable stepping out of that role.

Two-time Mayor Holly Daines of Logan says more good people – both women and men – are needed in local politics.

“When I ran for city council a long time ago, there were 13 candidates. And these were good, qualified people running for two seats. At our last election, there were three candidates running for two seats. And luckily we had good people, but I think the number of people who want to get involved in politics is shrinking these days,” said Daines.

Brand-new Mayor Mollie Halterman serves in the southern Utah city of Parowan, where she is the first woman to serve.

“It’s a kind of overcoming. I think the reason it’s not “more equal” is a barrier that doesn’t exist, and I think for other women that’s a barrier that you don’t have to think about. Just think about where you fit in, what you really want to do,” Halterman said.

Utah had a governor in Olene Walker, but she was never elected. She rose to that position when Governor Mike Leavitt accepted a federal position. Her bid for a second term fell through.

State voters have elected four women to Congress in the past. However, the current delegation has no women, and there has never been a female senator from Utah.

“Women see things differently than men,” said Lori Nay, Gunnison Mayor. “I think it’s important that people serve for the right reasons, and that can be really fulfilling when you do it.”

Nay is in her third term as mayor of the small, central Utah town, having previously served two terms on the city council. She says even in rural Utah, women can still win elections.

“I think it’s a perceived barrier. Once you enter this arena, you realize that this is the perfect place for you to do the things that matter to you in your community. It gives you the power to do things to make a difference in other people’s lives, and what a wonderful feeling it is when you can make a difference,” she said.

Mayors from across the state come from a variety of backgrounds, some with prior political experience before becoming mayor, others without.

“You don’t need to have specific qualifications to run for office,” Mayor Daines said. “I mean, I would run a household, that’s probably similar to running a small business, but I didn’t have one. In certain matters, I wasn’t involved in politics before the council, but I had been involved in my community.”

Mayor Kaufusi encouraged other women to try.

“If I can do it, so can you. There’s nothing special about me. I work hard and that’s probably my positive talent that I have. So if I can step in and do that, so can you,” she said.

Mayor Halterman added, “I think of all of us, many of us as racehorses who got stuck in the starting gate, and now that gate is open and we can just go.”

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