Holly Richardson: Women belong in the House and the Senate

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) "Standing here together are the 25 women of the 63rd Legislature, a historic number for Utah," said Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, Feb. 14, 2019.

In Gov. Gary Herbert’s final State of the State address, he asked the female elected officials to stand and be recognized. “You are proving that a Utah woman’s place is in the House and in the Senate,” he said. He also reminded listeners that it was 150 years ago that Seraph Young became the first woman in the nation to vote, on her way to work.

Utah does have a rich pioneer tradition of recognizing the contributions of women at home, at church, in the workplace and the voting booth. Better Days 2020 has made meaningful strides in helping Utahns remember their HERitage, but Utah still remains toward the very bottom on the list when it comes to women in elected office, especially if you are a Republican woman.

I know, I know. You don’t vote based on gender, and that you would for for a woman, just not that woman. Of course, that just means you vote for the man on the ballot. Got it. This column’s not for you.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said it well when she noted that “When women are at the table, a broader agenda is discussed, an agenda that looks out for all Americans, particularly those who are voiceless. Women’s voices are not better than men’s, they’re different and the broader perspective that we bring often leads to better results.”

If Utah’s politicos, activists, the business community and, yes, voters, believe that and are serious about electing women and having them take their place in the House and the Senate (and other elected offices as well), well, I have some suggestions.

First, it is way past time to move past lip service. Speaking in general terms about how great it is to have women in office means nothing if there is no action behind it.

Far too often, female candidates hear something like, “Oh, you should totally run! You’d be great! I’m right there with you!” But then when they ask for an endorsement, or financial donation, or even volunteer help, they are met with crickets. Or, even more painful, they give money and an endorsement to the male candidate in the race.

If you really want women to run and get elected, then put your money (and your name and your time) where your mouth is.

Women can and do fundraise, but it takes more phone calls and thus more time.

“A man might be able to pick up a phone and raise $1,000 with one phone call. A woman may have to make 10 phone calls in order to raise that same $1,000,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers. So donate.

Openly endorse female candidates, hold cottage meetings for them, introduce them to your network(s) and knock doors for and with her.

If you are currently an elected official (or frankly, anyone involved in politics on any level) and you are still talking down to or about women who are running for office (or who are in office already!), stop it, bro. It’s none of your business how many kids she has or doesn’t have and what her childcare arrangements might be. Do you ask your male colleagues with kids at home what childcare arrangements they have made and suggest that they really should not run for office while being a parent? No? I didn’t think so. So STOP. IT.

Don’t say how “cute” it is that she’s running for office or wonder if she’s serious. If her name is on a ballot anywhere, at any level, she’s serious. Don’t tokenize women or use them for photo ops to show how supportive you are while surrounding yourself with the bros.

Women will continue to run for office and they will continue to win, but if you are really serious about seeing more women run and win, then please, please, move past the lip service to action. Otherwise, it all rings hollow.

Holly Richardson

Holly Richardson is a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune.