At 27, Utah’s newest lawmaker is also its youngest by several years, leapfrogging a cohort of early- to mid-30s legislators elected or appointed in 2018.
And while Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Riverton, is adamant that her age does not define her, she also views her youth as an asset, saying it provides new viewpoints to the state’s lawmaking body — in which some members have served for longer than Pierucci has been alive.
“I think if we all can acknowledge that having different perspectives in the room is valuable, then we don’t have to feel defensive," she said.
But she also acknowledges that her atypical resume has prompted some indelicate questions, like how she intends to balance her time as a representative with her responsibilities as the mother of a less-than-1-year-old son.
She said her candidacy was a team effort, with the full support of her husband and family, and suggested there’s no better way to teach her son the value of civic engagement than to run for office and participate in government herself.
“I’ve been asked ‘Who is watching your child? How do you feel being a mom? Is this really appropriate for you?'" Pierucci said. “And I wish we would ask those [questions] of my male counterparts, quite frankly, but I’m happy to answer questions.”
On Oct. 26, Salt Lake County Republican delegates selected Pierucci to fill the House vacancy left by Rep. John Knotwell, R-Herriman, who said the demands of his work schedule prompted him to step down. She was then formally appointed by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert.
Among her policy priorities are education reform, pro-family tax credits and the buildout of roads, transit and utilities to stay ahead of population growth. She also supports the state bidding for another Winter Olympic games, loves baseball and superhero movies and listens to audiobooks.
Describing herself as a picky eater — “I’ve got the taste buds of a 6-year-old" — Pierucci holds at least one divisive opinion on food, one that she shares with Herbert.
When Pierucci eats peanuts, she eats the shells.
“It just is how I like eating peanuts,” she said. “It’s saltier that way.”
Rep. Stephanie Pitcher, D-Salt Lake City, said Pierucci’s age and perspective will be a benefit for all Utahns. Pitcher, 33, is among the youngest members of the Legislature and she said she initially worried her ideas would be discounted but found the reality of the Capitol to be much more considerate.
“I think that she’s completely capable of taking this on and she doesn’t need anyone to tell her that,” Pitcher said of Pierucci. “She’s going to rock it.”
A native Utahn, Pierucci’s family moved to Herriman from Utah County when she was 10 years old. She graduated from Riverton High School and completed an internship at the state Capitol during her senior year.
“I fell in love with it,” she said. “I just absolutely loved everything about it.”
After high school she attended Utah Valley University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and where she was president of the College Republicans. And it was through that extracurricular activity that she met her now-husband Andy Pierucci, who at the time was president of the College Republicans at Utah State University.
“As any good nerd does,” Andy Pierucci said, “rather than partying on spring break we went to a political training. And that’s where we first met.”
While College Republicans provided the spark that kicked off a friendship-turned-courtship, the couple technically met earlier than that. Andy Pierucci was a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Washington, D.C., at the same time that Candice Pierucci was interning in the D.C. office of Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah. (She later worked for Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, and currently is development director for the Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank, but plans to leave that position at the end of the year.)
One of her duties as an intern was to prepare the Jell-O for Lee’s weekly constituent open house. Andy Pierucci visited one of these and was served Jell-O by Candice.
Andy Pierucci, who works as the director of public policy for the Utah Valley Chamber, said it was typically him making the drive between USU and UVU when they were dating. Often, he said, they would see each other on a Friday or Saturday night and he would sleep on a pullout bed in the basement of her parent’s home in Herriman before making the trip back to Logan.
“I knew I wanted to marry her on the first date. It took her a little bit longer,” he said. “Candice is strong, she’s independent and just a ton of fun to be around.”
Candice Pierucci said she wanted to marry someone who saw her as an equal partner and who would support her in pursuing her dreams. She said she feels her husband completely believes in her, and that she was won over by how free she felt to be herself around him.
“To always have that constant cheerleader and someone who sees your potential even when you don’t see it,” she said, “I think that’s important in your partner."
Policies and priorities
While Candice Pierucci had considered running for office in the future, she assumed that decision would be further off than it turned out to be. But after Knotwell announced his resignation from the House, she said, the timing felt right.
She said she understands why some mothers might put off politics until their children are grown. But when she thought about it, she saw the value in an elected leader who looks at legislation through its impact on a young family.
“Age was not a good reason to not run,” Pierucci said. “I think we have to stop putting these cultural requirements on what you can do.”
Pierucci’s district, which includes portions of Herriman, Riverton and South Jordan, is experiencing a surge in development and population growth. And she said that has a significant impact on roads, transit, utilities, and schools.
She’s encouraged by the plans for the Mountain View Corridor, and said she has serious concerns about developments like the proposed Olympia Hills project — a high-density planned community that would be located near, but outside of Herriman — adding that collaboration and planning are necessary to mitigate negative impacts.
“I’m not against growth,” she said. “I think growth is inevitable and growth can be great. I think we just have to have responsible growth and sustainable growth.”
On education, Pierucci said that school districts should be given greater autonomy, that teachers should be listened to and rewarded, and that schools should be more student-focused. She’s skeptical of adding more high-tech devices.
“I think we have plenty of tech in the classroom,” she said, “and that’s a millennial speaking.”
She said she’d also like to work on reducing the cost of adoptions in the state, expanding the per-child tax deduction and offering a tax credit for fertility treatments.
“The state has a vested interest in families and I think that economics tell us that those are what work best for us as a system and a culture,” she said.
Passing the torch
John Knotwell, Pierucci’s predecessor, said he’s excited for her and believes his former House district is in good hands.
“She worked tremendously hard to earn the support of the delegates in the area and has a strong understanding of their concerns and fears,” Knotwell said. “She’s well prepared to tackle the responsibility of representing District 52.”
And Scott Miller, chairman of the Salt Lake County Republican Party, offered his congratulations as well, saying in a prepared statement that the party looks forward to working with Pierucci.
“Her leadership and commitment to conservative values will impact her district, Salt Lake County and the state of Utah,” Miller said.
Pitcher remarked that the Utah Legislature is largely composed of older, white men. The bottom line, she said, is that lawmakers in the state do not look like the constituency they represent.
“I think it’s so critically important that we have more young voices up there,” she said, “that we have more women [and] that we have parents with young children.”
Out of 104 Utah lawmakers — including Pierucci — 78 are men and 26 are women. Pierucci will bring the number of Republican women in the Legislature to 10, compared to 16 who are Democrats.
Pitcher added that there are likely other young women in Utah who will see Pierucci and other lawmakers as an example of someone who is able to run for, and be elected to, political office.
“I think it’s good to just be mindful of that and kind of be ready and available to be a mentor for others who may be considering a run for office as well,” Pitcher said.
Given her age, Candice Pierucci is uniquely positioned for a potentially lengthy political career. But she said she doesn’t have a time frame in mind for how long she expects to serve in the House, or a particular goal for higher office down the road.
“Right now, I’m focused on this,” she said. “I haven’t even gotten my [House] office yet. That’s where I’m at.”