Donald J. Trump is president and the #MeToo movement is in full swing, but the status quo, reflected in the membership of Congress and the Utah Legislature, continues to be shaped mostly by white men.
It’s 2018 and the Chinese lunar calendar calls it the year of the dog, but this could be the year of the woman as members of the female gender, perhaps more than ever, want their voices heard.
Across the country, women are expressing more interest in civic and political arenas, said Sheryl Allen, a former state legislator from Davis County.
“Trump’s history and politics have raised the consciousness of women.”
Here, in Salt Lake County, some 50 women gathered on Saturday for Real Women Run, a YWCA initiative launchd in 2011 to empower women to participate in elected public office at all levels, as well as appointed boards and commissions. The daylong program included instruction in community engagement and how to run a political campaign, among other things.
“Women have a different perspective,” Allen, a program organizer, said. “And, if we’re going to get good government, we need a diversity of opinion and expertise to make the type of government the public wants and deserves.”
One relatively new politician at Saturday’s session was Suzanne Harrison, a physician and Democrat from Draper. In 2016, the first-time candidate ran against incumbent Republican LaVarr Christensen for a seat in the Legislature and lost by five votes.
Harrison said she plans to challenge Christensen again in 2018.
“[Utah has] one of the lowest rates of women representation in the country,” she said. “We need more women in office.”
The Utah Legislature is 15.4 percent female with six senators and 10 representatives. Nationwide, women make up about 20 percent of Congress. There are 22 female senators and 84 female representatives — including Utah’s only female delegate, Rep. Mia Love.
Recently, however, Utah women scored victories for the first time in mayoral races in Tooele, Woodland Hills, Provo, Cedar Hills and Vineyard. Now women represent 27 percent of council or mayoral positions along the Wasatch Front — still short of the 30 percent national average.
Rachel Ridge just graduated from the University of Utah with degrees in biology and chemistry. She’s never held political office but said she feels obligated to raise her voice.
“As I have seen matters get more and more out of hand, I have wanted to get more involved,” Ridge said. “People in general, not just women, are disillusioned with the state of affairs in the White House.”
Erin Caldwell, 28, is from Lehi and sought out Real Women Run to get a better understanding of how to engage the political system.
“I don’t feel ready to run for office,” she said, “but I have opinions and I want to get my voice heard.”
Public-sector neophytes also got advice Saturday from a panel of women who have tested the political waters. They gave insights on such things as publicity, fundraising and time management.
Among the panelists was Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake, who told the audience that to be successful it’s critical they make a connection with their constituency.
“Know who you are talking to in your neighborhood,” she said. “They want someone who is real.”
Panelist Sophia DiCaro, a former Republican state legislator from West Valley City who now sits on the commission that oversees the Utah Department of Alcohol Beverage Control (UDABC), said she was caught off guard by the partisan nature of running for a legislative seat.
“People feel strongly about their viewpoints,” she said. “But you can overcome a lot by just sitting down and talking with people.”
Holly Richardson, a blogger and former state legislator from Pleasant Grove who also writes columns for the Tribune, said it’s important for women to see other women on city councils, county commissions and other public decision-making bodies.
“There is something about seeing other women speaking,” she said. “And then they say, ‘Oh, I can do that.’ “