Michelle Quist: Year of the Woman in Utah politics, with more to come

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Kathleen Riebe, a teacher, a mother and newly elected Democrat from Cottonwood Heights, will represent Senate District 8 in the 2019 Legislative Session in January. Riebe is shown with two Granite School District students: Camila Soriano, 9, and her brother, Isaac Soriano, 7. The number of women in the Utah Legislature will reach a historic high in 2019 at 24 percent.

As forecast, 2018 was the Year of the Woman. Women across the country were elected at a historic rate. At the national level, Jennifer Rubin summarized: “Women will hold at least 96 seats in the House, a record; at least 23 members of the U.S. Senate and nine governors will be women. Overall, at least 117 women have been elected as House members, senators or governors.”

Even here in Utah, while we lost our only female member of Utah’s federal delegation when Mia Love lost to Ben McAdams, we still made strides toward a more equal, and more representative, government.

In fact, the 2019 Legislature will see a record-number of women – 25 women will serve, 19 in the House and six in the Senate. That accounts for 24 percent of the total Legislature, which is still below the national average of 28 percent. The record goes back to 2002, when 24 women served in the Utah Legislature. So at least we’re heading in the right direction again.

Of course, most of those women were elected by Democrats — but I keep bringing that up and people keep shoo-shooing me, so it must not mean anything.

There are seven newly elected female legislators this year — six are in the House, five are Democrats and five flipped a seat from a man to a woman. Three of those flipped seats from Republican to Democrat.

And every female incumbent who ran for re-election was successful.

Two very popular female legislators who unfortunately for us chose to retire – Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D, and Rebecca Edwards, R – were both replaced by female candidates. Their legacy and example was too strong to see otherwise. They were two of our best legislators, we will miss them, and we owe them a debt far larger than mere gratitude.

After the November election, Nevada became the first state with a female-majority Legislature. I don’t think it’s all that unusual. The West has always been a bastion of feminist activity.

Did I say the “F” word? I know it can be a dirty word here in Utah, but it shouldn’t be. Utah’s brand of feminism has been leading the country since the 1800s.

In fact, Utah’s history, as the Better Days 2020 campaign has so adeptly educated, is defined by strong, powerful, passionate women. Utah women were partly responsible for the national suffrage movement. Utah was home to some of the country’s first female legislators, female doctors and female poets. Utah’s women certainly showed the country, if not the world, how to organize to provide local and national welfare and humanitarian relief.

We claim to honor women, to hold them in the highest regard, here in Utah. They are protectors of the home. They teach and care for and nurture. And they fight for those who need fighting for.

Yet recent history (from 15 years ago to just last year) has us still celebrating firsts: the first Utah Supreme Court chief justice, the first Utah House speaker, the first majority on a court (Utah Court of Appeals), the first Salt Lake County sheriff, the first The Salt Lake Tribune editor, and the first university president.

We’re finally sending Martha Hughes Cannon, in statue form, to Washington D.C. — the first woman to represent Utah in Statuary Hall. So let’s take the dirty out of the word feminism and embrace all the firsts yet to come.

Your daughters and granddaughters will thank you.

Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, is doing his part. He is running a bill this session that will allow state candidates to use campaign funds to pay for childcare, as federal campaign finance laws already allow. Both male and female candidates would benefit. The expense is a barrier to running for public office, for women especially, and this bill, without any taxpayer or governmental expense, will help bring down that barrier.

We need more of these bold ideas. I’m looking forward to seeing what our Legislature can accomplish this year.

Maybe 2018 was The Year of the Woman – but it won’t be the last one. I think 2019 will be that year also. And 2020. And 2021. And if you’re not on board, you’ll be left behind.

Michelle Quist

Michelle Quist is a columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune