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Gender gap likely to grow on Utah’s Capitol Hill
Legislature » Number of women could shrink with retirements and candidacies.

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This trend is fairly recent. GOP women in Utah’s Legislature matched or exceeded the number of Democratic women for most of the past decade, according to Rutgers Center for Women and Politics. But 2009 saw an upturn in women Democrats being elected, even as the Democratic caucus in the Capitol shrank.

Fisher, a 10-year legislative veteran who previously served 16 years on the West Valley City Council, will certainly be replaced by a man. None of the three candidates is female.

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Still, "We have a good balance on the Democratic side," she said, pointing to the much wider disparity in the GOP caucus. "I would hope that some Republican women would step up and say, ‘I can do this.’ "

Lindsay Zizumbo is co-founder of Real Women Run, an organization that provides networking and training help for women interested in running for office.

Women in Utah are less likely than other places to make the jump from personal or career life to a life of politics. Raising children takes up time for many moms, she says, and women aren’t as apt to enjoy the rigors of campaigning and of holding office.

Images of leadership » "Women feel less qualified because they compare themselves not to a candidate holding current local office, but something entirely different, like comparing themselves to Mitt Romney," Zizumbo said. "I don’t think the news cycle is portraying what lawmaking is like behind the scenes."

Menlove spoke of a defining moment early in her career when a teaching job she applied for was given to a male who had less experience. "I’ve tried to be myself, genderless — not using gender as a barrier or as an asset. And that has served me well. I’ve had great relationships working alongside men," she said.

But Utah’s female legislators say they have hardly felt inferior to men in their political careers, and haven’t had much negative experience. While some women may feel timid about entering a political arena dominated by men, Seelig said images of leadership are designed by those already in these roles.

That’s why Seelig and others from both parties work with Real Women Run.

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Many women, Zizumbo says, need to be asked to run the first time. That confirms the experiences of Jones and Menlove, who each said she was repeatedly urged to run before finally jumping in.

And the idea that a woman can’t make it in the rough-and-tumble world of politics? Seelig says that notion needs to disappear.

"I reject the premise that women don’t want to be aggressive. If you were to ask anyone in the House about me or Speaker [Lockhart], you would get a mouthful," she said. "A lot of times people aren’t expecting it and so it’s a little bit disarming. But I’ve never backed down from a fight."

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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