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Utah women making gains in political representation

Feb 01, 2018 08:01AM ● Published by Justin Adams

Jennifer Napier-Pearce gives the keynote speech at the winter training event of Real Women Run. (Justin Adams/City Journals)

This fall, Brooke Christensen was elected to represent Sandy’s first district on the city council. She joined three other women already serving on the council: Linda Martinez-Saville, Kristin Coleman-Nicholl and Maren Barker. The four women constitute the first female majority in the history of the Sandy City Council as well as represent a growing trend of women gaining more representation in Utah politics.

“I think it’s exciting that it’s a council full of women,” said Christensen. “It’s really neat to see the community represented that way because at least half of Sandy is women.”

Of the 16 municipalities located within Salt Lake County, Sandy is one of only three city councils with a female majority, according to the cities’ current city council websites (the other two being Millcreek and Riverton). Three other cities (Draper, Cottonwood Heights and Herriman) have an equal number of men and women. The rest of the cities have city councils with male majorities, many of which only have a single female representative. Midvale is the only city that doesn’t have a single woman on their city council. 

Those numbers are consistent with a 2016 report by the Utah Women and Leadership Project, which found that “24.1 percent of all council members in Utah municipalities are female, which puts Utah below the national average of data gathered historically.”

Since that report was published, however, women in Utah have won a number of city council seats and mayor races in the 2017 election cycle. Cities like South Jordan and Provo elected a female mayor for the first time in their histories. 

“It’s a pretty exciting time to be a woman in politics and leadership.” That’s what Jennifer Napier-Pearce told a group of women who attended a Jan. 13 conference put on by the organization Real Women Run.

The organization is a part of the Utah chapter of the YWCA and focuses on empowering women to get involved in local politics. They hold regular networking and training events for Utah women who are interested in running for political office themselves or even just volunteering for someone else’s campaign. 

Napier-Pearce, who is the editor-in-chief of the Salt Lake Tribune, was the conference’s keynote speaker. She gave a brief history of some of Utah’s first female politicians, highlighted the Tribune’s coverage of the 2017 elections, and assured attendees that the media isn’t just out to get people. 

“We sometimes make mistakes, and when we do, I want to hear from you,” she said. “Call me and tell us what we got wrong and we’ll correct it if it’s warranted.”

“People need to be more comfortable with seeing women in power because it’s happening,” said Callahan Black, a 17-year old student at SLCC who attended the conference. 

Black said it’s important to have women in political leadership positions because she feels they are more likely to represent her interests better. “It’s about feeling represented. It’s hard to look at a group of men and feel like they really care about some of the issues that impact women.”

Another attendee of the conference was Jenny Wilson, a Salt Lake County Council member who is also running a campaign for the Utah senate seat currently held by Orrin Hatch. 

Of the wave of newly elected female politicians in the state, Wilson said, “I think we’ve had a dramatic shift in awareness. I think people are waking up and saying, ‘I relate to these women.’”

Wilson said there are still a number of factors that combine to make women feel like they don’t have enough time to be civically engaged. “I understand how tough it is to manage a family, to have a job, to be engaged in your church and community, and then to get involved in politics on top of it all. The least that anyone can do is go vote.”  

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