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Local GOP puts focus on female political involvement

By Tim Vandenack - Special to the Daily Herald | Sep 20, 2021

Tim Vandenack, Special to the Daily Herald

Susan Madsen, director of the Utah Women and Leadership Project, addresses a gathering of the Weber County Republican Women on Sept. 13, 2021, at The Ice Sheet in Ogden.

As is, just two of the 16 mayors leading Weber County’s varied locales are female.

Likewise, of the 10 lawmakers representing the county in the Utah Senate and Utah House, just two are women.

Lorraine Brown, though, aims to change that. The Ogden lawyer has taken over as president of Weber County Republican Women and one of her goals is to prod more women to get involved in civic matters and run for office. “When women come to the table, things are done differently,” Brown said.

It’s not necessarily a Democrat-Republican thing for her, she said. Her broad aim is to encourage women to be more active, regardless of their specific politics. “My priority is women in Weber County,” she said.

Getting there is the thing and she aims to edge toward the goal of bolstering political involvement by females by mentoring, helping engender a mindset among women that they belong in the political sphere. Brown, from Ogden, is also secretary of the Weber County Republican Party and unsuccessfully ran twice for the District 10 seat in the Utah House, in 2018 and 2020.

Susan Madsen, founder and director of the Utah Women and Leadership Project, or UWLP, is attuned to the subject. The mission of the group she leads is to “strengthen the impact” girls and women have in Utah and Madsen addressed the Sept. 13, 2021, Weber County Republican Women gathering at which Brown was installed as group leader. Brown took over from Darcy Kruitbosch.

“We’ve always been socialized as women that that’s not our role, so we have to change that… We’ve just got to keep moving forward and get women in all the roles,” Madsen said. Utah, she said, ranks “very low” among U.S. states in terms of female involvement in political leadership.

That’s not to say there aren’t female leaders. Brown and Madsen just want to see more.

Utah Sen. Ann Milner, a Republican, and Utah Rep. Rosemary Lesser, a Democrat, serve Weber County in the legislature, the two females among the delegation of 10 serving the county. Both attended the Weber County Republican Women gathering at which Brown was installed as group president.

The two female mayors in the county are Michelle Tait, mayor of Harrisville, and Sharon Bolos, who leads West Haven. Many more women serve as members on the city councils around Weber County while Weber County Recorder/Surveyor Leann Kilts is the sole female elected official at the county level.

The six federal representatives, four U.S. House members and two U.S. senators, are all men.

‘THINGS CHANGE’

Like Brown, Madsen said having women in elected posts and other positions of power makes a difference.

“Things change,” Madsen said. “We must have more women’s voices for so many reasons.”

In states with more women in elected positions, she said, funding is allocated differently than those with less female representation. More money goes to education, health care and social programs, like initiatives targeting poverty and homelessness. Moreover, more resources are funneled to combating domestic violence and sexual assault.

“We need men and women working together, not just women changing the the world. It’s that balance that’s so incredibly important,” Madsen said.

Here are a few stats she provided, showing the disparity in male-to-female political involvement across the country:

In the U.S. House and U.S. Senate, 142 of 535 seats, 26.5% of them, were held by females as of 2021. About three-quarters of the female U.S. House members were Democrats, the rest Republicans.

Across the country, women hold 94 of 310 statewide offices, 30.3% of the total. In Utah, one of the five statewide elected posts is held by a woman — Deidre Henderson, the lieutenant governor.

Across the country, 30.8% of state legislative posts were held by women as of 2021. That figure was 24% in Utah, representing 25 female lawmakers, 16 Democrats and nine Republicans.

In pushing for more female representation, it’s not about having women take over the the reins of power or somehow reducing the say men or others have, Madsen said.

“We can lift girls and women, we can lift people of color, we can lift ourselves as well,” she said. “It’s not either or.”

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