ST. GEORGE — Utah Lt. Gov. Olene Walker urged women in Washington County Thursday to get involved in their communities and consider running for public office.
"When I was elected to the Legislature there were only six women out of 104 members," Walker told several dozen members of the Washington County Republican Women at their monthly meeting. "Now there are 24 women, and we're doing better. But we still need a lot more of you to step up and run for office."
Walker, who has served as lieutenant governor for 10 1/2 years, said she tends to introduce herself right now as Utah's next "would-be, could-be, maybe governor."
"Quite frankly, I do look forward to becoming governor," she said. "Right now I'm going through the painful realization that I need to decide whether I can be the best governor I can be for 14 months and still run for office. I haven't made that decision yet, but I still have a little time to do that."
Walker's pride in Utah was evident, especially as she relayed a story about meeting California's lieutenant governor at a February meeting in Washington, D.C.
"It was one of the most amazing conversations I've ever had. He asked me what I was doing and I said we're struggling with a tough budget, just like everyone else," she recalled. "And then he said, 'Well, we're not paying too much attention to that yet. Maybe the federal government will bail us out if we get in trouble.' "
Utah's budget continues to cause worry at the highest levels, she said.
"The last three years have been extremely difficult. We've had to eliminate programs that, I have to tell you, are very dear to my heart," Walker told her audience. "We have very limited revenue projections over last year. It's going to be a tough budget year."
When the recession first impacted Utah, Walker said she and Gov. Mike Leavitt described it as a V, with a downward dip and then a foreseeable sharp spike upward.
"Then it (the recession) was more of a U, and now it's an L. I can say I'm looking forward to being the governor, but I'm not looking forward to the budget," Walker said. "Right now our revenue is level. We're fortunate it's not going down."
The state's budget woes are directly related to the high number of children who need to be educated and funding mandated programs such as those in Medicaid and the government's No Child Left Behind law, she said.
"It is certainly underfunded, I can tell you that," Walker said in response to a question about the No Child Left Behind act. "But I support the concept of it."
Children who learn to read well by the third grade typically later do well in all aspects of their schooling and their lives, Walker said.
"We are making some critical changes to a competency-based education. This is going to identify clearly where individual students need help," she said. "I keep thinking if we could solve the problem of illiteracy and drugs we could do so much for society."
Walker also fielded questions about illegal aliens, new voter machines, the St. George Replacement Airport, and trade missions to other countries.
"We're hoping that L will take a skyward trend," she said.