Michelle Quist: Where are the women in Utah state government?

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) In this Jan. 31, 2020, file photo the Utah governor candidates are pictured. From left, Jeff Burningham, Aimee Winder Newton, Jon Huntsman, Thomas Wright, Greg Hughes and Spencer Cox pose for a group photo with Silicon Slopes Executive Director Clint Betts, center after a debate at the 2020 Silicon Slopes Tech Summit convention, at the Salt Palace Convention Center.

This weekend, Utah Republican delegates will attend a state nominating convention unlike any other – the convention is completely online. But other than online voting, and the beauty of not having to sit in a convention center all day listening to never-ending inane speeches about the Constitution and carpet bags, the process remains the same.

And what is that process in Utah? A little primer:

In 2014 the Utah Legislature enacted SB54, which added a second path to the primary ballot. Now, a candidate can take the traditional route of winning at convention or collect signatures for direct access to the ballot.

This year, three Republican gubernatorial candidates gathered the requisite number of signatures: Thomas Wright (with Rob Bishop running for lieutenant governor), Spencer Cox (with Deidre Henderson) and Jon Huntsman (with Michelle Kaufusi). Those three candidates will be on the June 30 Republican primary ballot no matter what happens this weekend at convention. Two other candidates for governor could make the primary ballot through the convention route.

First, delegates. Because caucus night was postponed due to COVID-19, the delegates who were chosen in the March 2018 caucus nights will remain delegates for this convention. They will be the ones voting. Interestingly, these delegates were chosen at their neighborhood caucuses when Mitt Romney was running to replace Sen. Orrin Hatch.

Second, voting. One other change this year will be how the votes are tallied – the Republican Party will be using “ranked choice” voting, which means that the delegates will rank their choices for first, second, third, etc., out of all of the candidates. Tallying will still be done in multiple rounds, but delegates won’t have to vote again. Candidates with the lowest totals will be eliminated and other choices substituted until a winner emerges.

If one candidate receives 60% of the vote, she or he will proceed to the primary ballot as the convention candidate. If there are two candidates left and neither receives 60%, they will both proceed to the primary ballot in June.

Delegates have already received information to verify their credentials. And candidates have been in high drive for weeks, sending mailers, emails, and hosting online town halls. Pre-recorded speeches were to be released Wednesday, and voting will open on Thursday so 4,000 delegates don’t overwhelm the system. Voting will close Saturday at 5 p.m., and results will be announced later that evening.

While I’m not officially endorsing a candidate this year, I do have certain values I’m looking for. Utah is ranked worst in the nation for women’s equality, and we have zero women in state executive leadership (governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer, etc.). There’s just no reason at this point to have a ticket for governor and lieutenant governor without a woman on the ticket. It matters for good policy, and it matters to me.

For an example of what a lack of female leadership looks like, the governor recently appointed five members to the new 10-member Public Health and Economic Emergency Commission. All five appointees are male. There’s one man representing the Utah Department of Health, two men representing hospital systems in Utah, the president of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce and a former managing director of a real estate consulting firm.

House Speaker Brad Wilson appointed two more men, one is a legislator and real estate developer, the other the CEO of Larry H. Miller Group.

Where are the women? Do women not own small businesses affected by our current conditions? Where are the people of color and representatives from the refugee population? Have they not been disproportionately affected? This commission will have no credibility if it does not have two or three women on it.

Studies show that one woman on a board isn’t enough. “Collective intelligence generally rose, the study found, when women made up a greater proportion of the group.”

This crony commission is heading toward the same doom as the recent tax reform task force, which had only one woman on it, and whose recommendations were eventually adopted in legislation that was subject to a successful referendum by voters and eventually repealed by the Legislature. It’s gearing up to look like the recent COVID-19 business loan money that went to publicly-traded companies like Shake Shack instead of the local small businesses it was intended for.

When it comes to who will be Utah’s next governor, I’m tired of the lip service toward women’s representation in Utah leadership. I’ll be voting based on who has the best track record of equal, good governing.

Michelle Quist

Michelle Quist is a columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune.