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Study shows good news, bad news for women in Utah politics

By Genelle Pugmire - Daily Herald | Feb 4, 2022

Photo supplied, City of Riverdale

Karina Merrill is sworn in to a spot on the Riverdale City Council on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022. She was picked to fill out the term of Braden Mitchell, elevated by voters to mayor from the City Council last November.

Since 2014, the Utah Women and Leadership Project under the direction of Susan Madsen has been following the status of women in politics. The project’s latest survey numbers, released this week, offer a mix of good news and bad news for women.

While researchers look at all levels of politics — national, state, county and city — across the U.S., there is a greater focus on women in Utah and their political involvement.

“Although Utah has a rich heritage of women’s involvement in voting, advocacy, and various types of political involvement, Utah has lagged behind most states in terms of women running for and serving in elected political roles for decades,” the research team concludes.

Research continues to confirm that when both men and women serve together in communities, counties and states, all residents are better served and are more likely to thrive.

The study notes that overall, while Utah women have continually gained elected office since 2014, Utah still ranks last in WalletHub’s “Best & Worst States for Women’s Equality” with four of 17 key indicators being focused on political empowerment and coming in 47th of 50 states on the Represent Women’s “Gender Parity Index,” which measures women’s political representation.

Rick Egan, The Salt Lake Tribune, Pool

Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson speaks during the Governor's COVID-19 briefing at the Utah Capitol on Thursday, July 1, 2021.

This report provides both Utah and national data for the following seven areas: Congress, statewide executive offices, state legislatures, counties, mayors, city councils and boards of education.

The most current 2022 data show that, at the national level, women hold 26.9% of seats (144 of 535) in the 117th US Congress. In the U.S. Senate, 24% of the 100 seats are held by women, 16 Democrats and eight Republicans). In the U.S. House of Representatives, a record 27.6% (120 of 435) of seats are held by women, 75.2% of whom are Democrats, 89, compared to 31 Republicans.

In total, 40 of the 50 states have at least one woman serving in Congress, leaving 10 states with no women serving in their congressional delegation; Utah is on this list. Also, four female delegates represent the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa and Puerto Rico.

The most recent woman in Utah’s congressional delegation was Mia Love, who served in the House of Representatives from 2015 to 2019.

Love was the first woman elected to Congress in Utah since 1995.

Photo supplied

Tami Tran takes over as mayor of Kaysville the first week of January 2022.

At the national level, 2021 data show that women now hold 30% (93 of 310) of the statewide executive offices — 52 Democrats, 39 Republicans and two nonpartisan officials — one fewer than in the project’s last brief.

At the close of 2021, 45 women — 27 Democrats and 18 Republicans — had served as governors in 31 states.

States with female governors include Alabama, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island and South Dakota, while 17 states have female lieutenant governors. In 2021, eight of the 50 state attorneys general in the U.S. were women. Finally, 12 secretary of state offices, 10 state treasurer seats and 10 state auditor seats are held by women, according to the study.

In Utah, there is currently one woman holding office in the executive branch, with Deidre Henderson serving as lieutenant governor since 2021.

Throughout its history, Utah has never elected a woman to serve as governor. However, Utah has had one female governor and two lieutenant governors. Olene Walker served as lieutenant governor to Mike Leavitt from 1993-2003, until he was nominated to serve as the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

BEN DORGER, Standard-Examiner file photo

Kaysville Mayor Katie Witt said Tuesday, May 11, 2021, that she won't seek reelection. She's pictured here on June 9, 2020, speaking at the Standard-Examiner offices in Ogden about her bid at the time for the 1st District U.S. House seat.

Walker was then appointed as governor to serve until the end of Leavitt’s term, from 2003 until 2005. The only other woman to serve in a Utah statewide officer role was Jan Graham, a Democrat, who was attorney general from 1993-2001.

According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, a record-breaking 2,297 women are serving in state legislatures nationwide in 2022 (31.3%, 21 more than in the last brief).

“Notably, Utah is no longer included in the bottom 10,” researchers report. “Interestingly, Democrats make up 66% of the total number of women elected in legislatures. In 2020, Utah was ranked 32nd in the nation in terms of women serving in the state legislature, a ranking that fell to 39th in 2022.

In 2022, 17.2% of Utah senators, 5 of 29, and 26.7% of the House of Representatives, 21 of 75, are female. Overall, 26% of Utah legislators are women, below the national average.

“In Utah, female legislators are more likely to be Democrat than Republican,” researchers noted.

Photo supplied

City Council member Marcia White pictured in front of Ogden City Municipal Building.

In terms of the 2021 leadership in Utah, of the 11 leadership positions in the House of Representatives, two are held by Democratic women: Minority Whip Karen Kwan and Minority Assistant Whip Jennifer Dailey-Provost.

The Senate also has 11 leadership positions, four of which are held by women: Majority Whip Ann Millner (the only Republican in the group), Minority Leader Karen Mayne, Minority Whip Luz Escamilla and Assistant Minority Whip Jani Iwamoto.

Researchers collected 2022 county data from links listed on the Utah Association of Counties website. Of the 29 counties in Utah, 23 have elected commissioners, while six have elected county councils — Cache, Morgan, Salt Lake, Summit, Tooele and Wasatch.

In addition, each county elects a clerk/auditor, treasurer, recorder and assessor. Of the 73 county commissioners in Utah, 64 (87.8%) are men and nine (12.3%) are women. The women serve in Beaver, Davis, Duchesne, Grand, Iron, Millard and Utah counties.

Of the six county councils with a total of 38 seats, 30 (78.9%) council members are men, while eight (21.1%) are women.

Photo supplied, Karyn Johnston

Ogden City Council member Angela Choberka.

Additional elected county positions for 2022 revealed that, of the 21 of the 35 county clerk/auditors are women.

For county treasurer, 55.2% of seats are held by women. Women hold 19 of 29 (65.5%) county recorder seats, 11 of 29 (37.9%) county assessor seats, and only one county (Salt Lake) has a female sheriff, according to research data.

According to the National Foundation for Women Legislators, the number of women serving as mayors, city councilors and county commissioners is slightly on the rise. As of May 2021, the percentage of female mayors of cities with a population of at least 30,000 increased to 25.1%.

Among cities with 30,000 or more people, Utah has 13 female mayors (up from 10 in 2021): Michelle G. Kaufusi (Provo), Dawn R. Ramsey (South Jordan), Kristie Steadman Overson (Taylorsville), Holly H. Daines (Logan), Debbie Winn (Tooele), Joy Petro (Layton), Kelly Bush (Kearns), Tamara Tran (Kaysville), Erin Mendenhall (Salt Lake City), Kendalyn Harris (Bountiful), Karen Lang (West Valley City), Monica Zoltanski (Sandy) and Michele Randall (St. George).

Of the 252 municipalities in Utah, 60 have mayors who are women, representing 23.8%. Of the 60, 13 represent cities with populations of 30,000 or more (up from three in 2017).

Notably, three of the four Utah cities that have populations over 100,000 are led by women. Most of the state’s female mayors serve cities with populations under 10,000 people. Vineyard, one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, now has 20,000 residents up from a population of 14o. Most of that growth has been during the tenure of Mayor Julie Fullmer.

When it comes to city councils, the researchers collected data from every municipality in the state that had a council.

“We gathered information from websites, and then emails and calls were made to obtain the data that were not available online,” the survey team reported.

Overall, 29.8% of all council members in Utah municipalities are female, which puts Utah below the national average of data gathered.

Only one town or city in Utah’s history has had an all-female mayor and city council. According to Southern Utah News, “Kanab made history in 1912, when its newly elected mayor and city council took the oath of office making it the first time in the history of the United States where the town board and mayor were entirely comprised of women.”

Studies by National School Boards Association reported that in 2010, 44% of school district board seats across the US were held by women, compared to 49% in 2018.

In 2022, based on their websites, there are 234 total district board of education elected seats, and women held 115.

The boards with the highest percentages of women include Ogden City, Grand, Murray and Park City, all of which have at least 80% female representation. Canyons, Provo, Box Elder, Davis and Granite have 71.4% female representation.

Twelve other districts also have more than 50% female representation, while an additional 10 hovered around 40%. Two districts were at 28.6%, five at 20%, and these three districts currently have no women serving — Duchesne, Rich and South Sanpete.

Overall, Utah is at least average, if not slightly above, the national average for women holding school board seats.

“While we believe the tide is turning, understanding and removing the barriers women face when running for public office in Utah are critical to moving forward,” Madsen said.

Additional information can be found at http://utwomen.org to support future efforts to diversify voices on Utah’s Capitol Hill and in cities, towns and counties around the state.

“The Status of Women in Utah Politics: A 2022 Update” was co-researched by Hannah Payne, Marin Christensen, Kim Buesser and Lindsey Palmer.


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