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‘You can run for public office’: Utah County leaders recruit women to get politically involved

Throughout the county, state and country, women are underrepresented in the political sector, and a group of women and men in Utah County want to change that.

A coalition of local political and business leaders are encouraging women to run for political office in the county, particularly at the city council level.

In January, Janae Moss and Dr. Jessica Egbert were looking at a picture of the Provo City Council when they noticed something: There were no women in the photo.

“We thought that was such a disparate representation of the community,” said Egbert, who is executive vice president of strategy and engagement at Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions.

Moss and Egbert met with a group of local leaders, including Utah Valley University organizational leadership professor Dr. Susan Madsen, Barbara Leavitt of United Way of Utah County, Provo City Councilman George Handley, Orem City Councilman Mark Seastrand and Highland Mayor Rod Mann, to form a game plan to address the state’s political gender gap.

They had the idea of “tapping” women to run for office so politicians could better “reflect (the) makeup of the communit(ies)” they serve, Egbert said.

National research shows that men generally feel more qualified and confident to run for office than women, according to Madsen, who directs the Utah Women and Leadership Project.

“Unless (women) think they’re pretty much perfect, they don’t step forward,” Madsen said.

Hence the importance of encouraging and even asking women to run for office.

“Women actually don’t even think of running unless someone says, ‘Wait, you can run for public office,’” Madsen said.

‘This can be me’

After some discussion, Moss and Egbert, both of whom have been heavily involved in county and statewide community efforts, decided it didn’t make sense to encourage other women to run for office without launching campaigns themselves.

“We can’t be hypocrites,” said Egbert, who is running for city council in Mapleton. “We’ve got to put our money where our mouth is and run for office.”

Moss, who is running for Provo City Council and is currently the chair of United Way of Utah County, said running a city council campaign has helped her know the community “on a much deeper level.”

“It’s not something I ever thought I would do,” said Moss, who has spent 26 years working with various businesses in Utah Valley. “It’s as if I’m creating myself and standing out there and saying ‘I believe this can be me.’”

Regardless of the election results, Egbert said the process had been “really empowering and rewarding” and hopes it will inspire other women to launch their own campaigns.

“Win or lose, both Janae and I will be able to say we’ve gone through it (and) we’ve survived it,” said Egbert.

Women in local politics

Data shows that women in Utah are underrepresented in state and local politics.

Only 24% of state legislatures are women, compared to the national average of 28.6%, according to research from YWCA Utah and the Center for American Women in Politics.

As of 2017, 24.1% of council members in Utah municipalities were female, placing Utah below the national average, which was between 30% and 33% in 2016, says a policy brief from the Utah Women and Leadership Project.

County commissions and councils have even greater gender disparities, with 91% of positions being held by men.

Madsen said Utah’s lack of female representation can, in part, be explained by cultural norms and the “socialization” of girls and women.

“Historically, masculine characteristics are what has defined leadership in the United States,” added Egbert.

Patricia Jones, who served in the Utah House of Representatives between 2000 and 2006 and as a state senator between 2006 and 2014, said that, in the past, women have not been drawn to the political sphere because it is seen as negative and combative.

Jones said diversity in politics, both gender diversity and a wide-array of ideologies and backgrounds, can increase morale and make the government operate better, in addition to being more representative.

Cultural shift

Jones was the only woman in most of the committees she served on as a state legislator. Occasionally, there would be one other female representative on the committee.

But the former legislator said things are changing, and more women are getting the opportunity to run and recognizing their role in state politics and the impact they can have.

“I am definitely seeing a shift in how women see themselves,” Jones said.

Jones added that many male politicians and business leaders in the state are recognizing the importance of being allies and advocates for women.

The national #MeToo movement has also contributed to the shift, Madsen said, by empowering women to exercise their agency and speak out against mistreatment, misconduct and abuse.

“Women are rising up in many ways,” said Madsen.

Open heart, open mic: Velour's open-mic night an artistic growth catalyst in Utah County music scene

If there’s a line running outside of an establishment, there’s typically a good reason for it.

Every Wednesday evening, sometimes an hour and a half or so before the doors open at 8 p.m., musicians can be seen queuing up outside of Velour Live Music Gallery in downtown Provo. Their musical experience and disciplines can vary greatly, but they all stand outside — be the weather burning hot or freezing cold, rain, snow or sunshine — to share a bit of themselves through their art, and to be welcomed into the supportive, tight-knit community of musicians within.

Since the music venue’s opening in January of 2006, the weekly open-mic night has been a staple of Velour, and an integral part of Utah County’s music scene.

“It’s such an important part of the progression of the music scene,” said Corey Fox, owner of Velour Live Music Gallery. Fox has been running music venues in Provo since 1997, and open-mic nights have played a part in each establishment.

“But, it has definitely come into its own at Velour,” Fox said. “It’s not just a music community service for up-and-coming artists. Velour stands out differently from a lot of venues because it’s more based on artist development than a typical entertainment place.”

Since Velour’s opening 13 years ago, it has established a storied pedigree of musicianship. Bands such as Imagine Dragons, Neon Trees, Joshua James and many more hail Velour as their home and credit it for playing a role in their rise to stardom.

“A lot of the biggest success stories have started here on the stage and started as solo open-mic artists that found their band and then progressed,” Fox said.

The acoustic open-mic night has simple guidelines: The doors open at 8 p.m., there are 18 eight-minute time slots which are filled first come, first serve, musicians have a house guitar, keyboard and sound engineer at their disposal, and admission is $2 for performers, $3 for the audience. Music begins at 8:30 p.m. Fox explained that a gathering of roughly 50 people and performers is typical, but lately a crowd of more than 100 people is not uncommon.

“You’ll get everyone from some of the top musicians in the scene that want to come down and just try out new material to a crowd, all the way down to people who’ve never stepped foot on a stage before,” said Fox. “It’s a very cool, forgiving crowd. There’s a lot of great, positive energy going toward these younger artists that push them to keep coming.”

One such artist was Mariah Divis, now the frontwoman of Riahpaan & The Penny Candies and an experienced solo singer/songwriter, who came to her first open-mic night 10 years ago as a budding 19-year-old musician.

“I have like a huge stage fright problem, and it really has been such a safe space for me to try and get over my fears and practice,” said the Vineyard resident, who also now volunteers some of her off-stage time at Velour. “It’s like being home. There’s a lot of camaraderie, which I think is uncommon at least for me being from Washington state. There, if you’re really good, you’re more of a threat. Here if you’re really good, people cheer you on.”

Divis’ band was formed entirely through Velour open-mic-night connections. “I can’t tell you how many people that I just approached and asked for their contact info, and now we have like an eight-person band because of it,” she said.

Dallin Major is another musician in The Penny Candies’ lineup. “I played a song and Riah came in, and like kind of put me under her wing,” the Pleasant Grove resident said regarding a past open-mic night.

“It really is important to get into the community and find a network of people who can help you and support you,” Major said. “Go to as many events as you possibly can.” In addition to his role in Riah Pan and the Penny Candies, Major has his own solo act.

“If you’re trying to begin, that’s the perfect place to start,” Major said of open-mic nights. “You find something and if you don’t have songs yet, just get covers, because nothing improves your skills more than performing live.”

Performing live, at Velour in particular, is something that James McIntyre estimates he’s done over 50 times.

“There are these people that have years of experience, and they come here as examples of how to do it, and that’s really helpful,” McIntyre said. “They give you something to go toward.”

McIntyre is a Provo resident, originally hailing from Melbourne, Australia, who is a drummer for several local bands, half of a singing and guitar duo with Devin Knight in The Old Birds, and also a solo musician.

“Nate Pyfer, Joshua James, and Isaac Russell were these famous people, like these legitimately famous people, who were recognized on the street and were coming to open-mic nights until like, recently, to where it would stop being effective,” McIntyre said. “Having a community of people that you could really look up to that came and were like, ‘I’m not too good for open mic,’ was really cool.”

Velour is also unique in that it is an all-ages venue, free of smoking or alcohol.

“There’s an artist named Faith Johnson that goes by Faith Marie, and she’s kind of a YouTube sensation and on the verge of some big national things,” said Velour’s owner. “She started at our open-mic night when she was 12 years old. I’ve literally had label representatives telling me that they love all these Provo artists because they feel like they’re so much further ahead, because they were able to start playing at an earlier age on a real stage with real lights and a real sound system,” Fox said. “People ask us sometimes why isn’t there more touring bands here, and it’s because our priority is actually more so turning our local bands into the touring bands.”

Through love and a dedication to structure, Fox has helped artists as eclectic as Velour’s décor create a platform for themselves at open-mic nights.

“The point of this in particular, whether you want to play shows or not, is to come and have an accepting space for you to come and play your stuff,” said James McIntyre. “No one’s going to make fun of you. And if they do, they’re going to get scolded because that’s not what this is for; this is for people coming and getting something off their chest or just doing what they want to do. This is their space to do that. People come to listen to music and to be with people who like music.

“It’s really pure — pure and built on love.”

1 Year Out: A divided nation lurches toward 2020 election

WASHINGTON — One year from Sunday, voters will decide whether to grant President Donald Trump a second term in office, an election that will be a referendum on Trump’s vision for America’s culture and role in the world.

Much is unknown about how the United States and its politics will look on Nov. 3, 2020.

Who will Trump’s opponent be? How will Democrats resolve the ideological, generational and demographic questions roiling their primary? Will a strong economy shore up Trump’s support or will recession warning signs turn into a reality? Will Trump face voters as just the third American president to have been impeached by the House of Representatives?

This much seems certain: The nation will plunge into the election as deeply divided as it has been politically in more than half a century, when cities were in flames with protests over war and civil rights.

“It seems like Republicans and Democrats are intractable,” said Mark Updegrove, a presidential historian and chairman of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation. “They are both adhering to their own versions of reality, whether they’re based in truth or not.”

The political divisions today reflect societal and economic schisms between more rural, largely white communities where the economy depends on industries being depleted by outsourcing and automation, and more urban, racially diverse areas dominated by a service economy and where technology booms are increasing wealth.

Many of those divisions existed before Trump, but his presidency has exacerbated them. Trump has panned his political opponents as “human scum,” while Democrats view his vision for America’s future as anathema to the country’s founding values.

Indeed, no president in the history of public opinion polling has faced such deep and consistent partisan polarization.

Polling conducted by Gallup shows that an average of 86% of Republicans have approved of Trump over the course of his time in office, and no less than 79% have approved in any individual poll. That’s compared with just 7% of Democrats who have approved on average, including no more than 12% in any individual poll.

One thing that does unite the parties: voters’ widespread interest in the presidential campaign, even at this early phase. A poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows 82% of Democrats and 74% of Republicans are already interested in the election.

To win, Trump’s campaign needs to recreate the enthusiasm among his core supporters, a task that isn’t always easy for an incumbent burdened with a four-year record in office. But Trump is already leaning hard into the strict immigration policies that enlivened his supporters in 2016, while trying to convince more skeptical Republicans that Democrats are moving so far left as to be outside of the mainstream.

Rather than trying to persuade independents and moderate Democrats to switch their allegiances, the Trump campaign also believes it has better prospects in identifying Trump fans who didn’t show up in 2016 and mobilizing them to vote.

Trump’s case for reelection may hinge on the state of the economy, which continues to grow. The unemployment rate is also near a five-decade low of 3.6% and the stock market keeps reaching new highs.

“At the end of the day, people care about their pocket books and how they’re doing and I think he can clearly point to life being better off,” said Jason Chaffetz, a former Republican congressman from Utah. But he added, “Any precipitous drop would hurt the president.”

A full picture of the economy does hold some warning signs for Trump at the one-year mark to Election Day.

The president delivered a massive tax cut in 2017, yet it lacked the rocket-like thrust to push growth above the 3% that Trump promised. Job growth has been solid, yet parts of the industrial Midwest this year have shed the factory jobs that he promised to create.

Consumers are helped by the slight inflation and low interest rates, but housing costs and student debt have sabotaged some American’s hopes for middle-class prosperity. The China trade war inflamed by Trump has shown to his voters his willingness to fight for them, yet it has led to a decline in the type of business investment that fuels growth.

That is the story of the American economy Democrats want to tell over the next year. But the party is still struggling to figure out its own message to voters beyond contempt for Trump, the one sure thing that unites Democratic voters.

With just three months until primary-season voting begins, the top tier of candidates reflects the party’s uncertainty over its own identity.

Former Vice President Joe Biden promotes his decades of experience and running as an unabashed moderate willing to work across the political aisle. Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont are pushing for sweeping liberal change.

With all three of those candidates in their 70s, Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is running a surprisingly successful campaign on a call for generational change.

“I didn’t just come here to end the era of Donald Trump. I am here to launch the era that must come next,” Buttigieg said Friday during a Democratic Party dinner in Iowa.

The biggest known unknown for both parties may be how the ongoing impeachment proceedings will be viewed by Americans one year from now.

Testimony from a litany of administration officials has validated an anonymous whistleblower complaint that raised concerns about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. A rough transcript that the White House itself released showed Trump asked Ukraine’s president to look into baseless corruption allegations against Biden and his son Hunter.

But like the broader contours of American politics, the impeachment proceedings are so far breaking along partisan lines. A vote last week on the rules for the impeachment process passed with support from all but two Democrats. Every Republican voted no.

Those numbers would still put Democrats in position to impeach Trump in the House, though acquittal in the Republican-controlled Senate looks all but certain. Still, it would leave Trump as the first president facing reelection after impeachment.

Updegrove, the presidential historian, said the question a year from now will be whether that matters.

“If not, what will matter to the American people as a whole?” he asked. “Is there anything?”