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McEntee: Utah Latina eager to serve the underserved

Published October 28, 2012 5:32 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Is there anything Josie Valdez hasn't done?

She's spun through 29 years at the Utah office of the U.S. Small Business Administration. She was former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson's director of diversity. And, during the past five years, she has volunteered with teen moms, single moms, Toastmasters International, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, public education and, of course, the Democratic Party.

Now Valdez has set her sights on Utah Senate District 8, which covers an "amoeba" of territory, as she puts it, including most of Cottonwood Heights, Midvale, Murray and slivers of Sandy and Holladay.

I sense that Valdez, who knocks on doors every day, is going to be a force. She talks fast and thinks fast, and, campaigning like crazy in the run-up to the election, I'll bet she walks fast, too.

Valdez — one of a handful of Latinas this column is spotlighting as they make their first bids for the Legislature — has been a Utah fixture since she arrived here in 1971 after laboring in grass-roots politics and community work in Houston and San Diego.

"Houston was heavy and wicked and brutal," she says. "Here things were calm, utopian, kumbaya. There were easy entrees into politics and business. People listened, even if I was a woman and a minority."

But it wasn't about "brown power," as she puts it. It was getting things done and getting people to help others.

These days, she emphasizes the strength and viability of Utah families, which depend on good jobs and economic growth. It's about education, women's and children's health, the environment and immigration.

She's also an experienced campaigner, having run and lost, most recently as a candidate for lieutenant governor in 2008.

With encouragement from her husband, Mark Wheatley, a Utah House member, she decided to run for the seat held by Democrat Karen Morgan, who's leaving the Legislature.

"This time, I really felt I could win," Valdez says. Part of the reason is that District 8, she says, "used to run along the foothills and the rich and famous" who live there.

After redistricting, Valdez says, her constituents would be impoverished people, and/or undocumented immigrants, "blue collar to no collar, the middle class of Midvale and the tree-huggers of Cottonwood Heights.

"For me, that's great. That's where I come from — working class and unions," she says. "I want to serve the underserved."

She makes a point of noting she's running against a Republican of Asian descent, Brian E. Shiozawa, which speaks to Utah's growing, if slowly, diversity. As a third-generation Hispanic-American, she wants to help soften the hard-line stand some lawmakers have taken on immigration.

Valdez also is not unfamiliar with the plight of women and Democrats in general in an overwhelmingly male Republican Legislature.

Still, she says, she's made inroads there already.

"I've established a communication with the other side," she says. "I've been involved, given testimony, I'm the spouse of a legislator, and I've worked on small-business stuff and education.

"I want to reopen communications with my own colleagues," she adds, "as well as those sitting on the other side of the aisle."

There's another thing Valdez is resolute about: persuading voters to choose the candidate, not just the party.

"I just want people to go out and vote and not to be Romney-ized and vote a straight ticket," she says. "Look at the candidates who bring rich experiences. When they say we welcome the world here, let's not ruin it by pulling the lever on one party — Democratic or Republican."

Wise words from a wise woman.

Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at pegmcentee@sltrib.com, facebook.com/pegmcentee and Twitter, @pegmcentee.