Women take on leadership at conference

Jan 16 2012 - 11:36pm

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Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake
Davis County Commissioner Louenda Downs
Syracuse Mayor Jamie Nagle
Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake
Davis County Commissioner Louenda Downs
Syracuse Mayor Jamie Nagle

While women make up half of Utah's population, only 17 percent of Utah lawmakers are female. Utah does not have any women in Congress or statewide-elected office.

On Saturday, nearly 300 women attended the "Real Women Run: Find Your Voice" leadership training conference, sponsored by the YWCA and the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics.

"It was so exciting, because there was a tremendous outpouring of women who were getting instruction that was helpful to them as to how they can become politically involved," said Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, who attended the conference at Salt Lake Community College's campus in Sandy.

"It just reinforced the fact that there are a lot of women out there with passion on the issues and who can bring input and become involved."

Davis County Commissioner Louenda Downs was one of six women on a panel that discussed their experiences in winning Utah elections. Downs could not be reached for comment Monday.

Edwards is one of the 18 women in the state Legislature, which is down from 23 two years ago. The 13 female state representatives and five senators serve in a 104-member Legislature.

According to Rutgers University's Center for American Women and Politics, Utah ranks 43rd nationally for the percentage of women who serve in the state Legislature or assembly.

Edwards said the variety of women -- from young women with kids and strollers to women whose children have gone off to college -- received a road map on how to get started in local politics.

"It gave them some good, solid ideas as to how to take those first steps, saying you can do this and here are a whole bunch of ways to get involved and make it work for you and your families," Edwards said.

The attendees also met women in elected positions who can be relied on as mentors and role models.

Syracuse Mayor Jamie Nagle, the only female mayor in Davis County, learned an important lesson when she, her husband, Kevin, and their family lived in Saudi Arabia from 1999 to 2004.

"I lived in a country where women will literally die to have a voice in politics," Nagle said.

"It took going over there to make me fully realize the great gift it is to be born a woman in America. I don't want my daughters to think I take that for granted."

Nagle, who was elected mayor and began her term in 2010, said women who run for office face some unique challenges.

"The most common question I got when campaigning was, 'Well, you have kids. How are you going to do this?' " Nagle said.

"My response was that most men have families with kids. A man can't do this without a healthy support system, and women can't do it either without a healthy support system."

Women add a different perspective, especially when discussing issues that deal with families, she said.

Edwards said one of the most important ideas that came from the workshop is that there is a need for women to become more politically active, which includes getting involved on boards and commissions.

"The message was, there is something you do really well in your personal life that you can bring to light in politics."

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