Their names are Janice, Sandra, JoAnn, Donna and Deedee.

Common enough first names by Utah standards. But what really makes these five names unique is that they belong to women who serve as mayor in five of Salt Lake County's 12 cities.This unprecedented ascent of women to positions of local governmental power was solidified last fall in the municipal elections when all four female candidates who ran for mayor won their races by solid margins.

Joining Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini in their respective cities' mayor's offices were Taylorsville's Janice Auger, West Jordan's Donna Evans, Riverton's Sandra Lloyd and Midvale's JoAnn Seghini.

Add Salt Lake County Commissioner Mary Callaghan to the mix of women mayors, and it doesn't take a Sterling Scholar in math to figure that six of the top 15 elected posts in local government in the county are currently held by women.

And you can forget the stereotypical cheap shots about Utah being a state where all men prefer all women to be "barefoot and pregnant" and content with puttering away in the kitchen.

These are strong, educated and forceful women who have convinced voters they can wield power effectively and positively influence the lives of hundreds of thousands of valley residents each day.

All have been successful in their business or professional careers and have long histories of political and community involvement.

Two of them, Callaghan and Evans, are still balancing their child-rearing responsibilities with the demands of public office.

Lt. Gov. Olene Walker said the trend of electing women to higher political office is a good indication that people are becoming more gender-neutral.

"Women can be good policy-makers," she said. "I'm glad Utahns are moving forward and looking at the character, qualities and experience of people rather than their gender.

"I think fewer women (than men) run for office," she said. "But when they do run, as a percentage, they tend to win."

Walker, a former state legislator who held key leadership positions in the Utah House of Representatives, was elected lieutenant governor in 1992. At the time, she was one of six women nationwide to hold that office.

"Now there are 20 of us," she noted. "There is definitely a trend, and I expect it will affect the upcoming gubernatorial races.

"In many states, it is the tradition for the lieutenant governor to be elected governor."

But Walker, the first woman to serve as lieutenant governor in Utah, also was quick to explain, "This is not an announcement."

She noted the Leavitt administration has attempted to improve gender balance when making appointments to the state's various commissions and boards.

"We've significantly increased the number of women who are serving," Walker added. "But I dream of a day when people don't notice there's an increased number of women running for office because it won't be unusual."

Ted Wilson, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah, said he thinks one reason women are becoming more dominant in local politics is that they enter the public arena out of concern for local education or safety issues.

"They get interested in something like a safe crossing for a school, then their horizons expand," he said. "They realize they are effective at what they do, and pretty soon they're sitting on the City Council.

"Once they're involved at the City Council and mayor level, you see them running for higher office like the County Commission, the Legislature or lieutenant governor," Wilson noted. "Many, like Olene Walker, were neighborhood activists who became involved with other concerns."

He also agrees that voters are becoming more gender-blind.

"When women first appeared at higher levels of government, people had them under a microscope and wanted to see if they behaved like men," Wilson added. "But I think we're past that now."

Matt Burbank, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Utah who studies voting and elections, said the trend to elect women to higher office "is a reflection of changes that are occurring broadly all across the United States.

"Name recognition and visibility are much more important than gender," he said. "It's a matter of there are women candidates out there who are willing to step forward, have the ability to raise money" and can do what it takes to win elective office.

Burbank said gender appears to be even less of an issue in municipal elections, where races are usually less ideologically defined and candidates focus more on their qualifications and job performance.

He said Walker, Utah Attorney General Jan Graham and former Congresswoman Karen Shepherd are good examples of women who have successfully worked their way up through the political structure to serve with distinction.

"It's rare anymore that people would look at their gender as something that is unusual and unacceptable," Burbank added.