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Utah women in leadership: 2015 was a year of losses and gains

Utah lost some remarkable women in politics in 2015. But others stepped into new leadership roles. And with the recent swearing-in of Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, 2016 looks to be a big year as well.

Utah lost three giants: Becky Lockhart, who was the first female speaker of the Utah House of Representatives; Deedee Corradini, Salt Lake City's first female mayor; and Olene Walker, Utah's only female governor.

Meanwhile, Mia Love, R-Utah, was sworn in, while Biskupski was elected mayor of Salt Lake City.

Read more about these women and the impact they had in 2015 and beyond.

Former Utah House speaker Becky Lockhart

Lockhart, the first female speaker of the Utah House, served 16 years in the Utah Legislature, initially elected to represent the 64th District in Provo in 1998. In 2011, she began serving as the Utah House speaker until she announced in 2014 that she wouldn't run for re-election.

Lockhart, 46, died Jan. 17, 2015, from the unrecoverable and extremely rare neurodegenerative Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a disease described as "Alzheimer's on steroids."

One of Lockhart's lasting legacies should be the realization that a "woman can have a family, can be intelligent and can step forward and run for office and serve her community," said Catherine Dupont, associate general counsel to the Legislature, in a Deseret News article.

After her death, several remembered her as "The Iron Lady of Utah." For Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, it was because she possessed many of the same qualities as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. For Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, it was because she "didn't rule with an iron fist per se, saying, 'My way or the highway.' She's a very strong lady, but one of her strengths was to allow her colleagues to be the best that they could be."

United States Representative Mia Love

Love was sworn in as a representative of Utah’s 4th Congressional District on Jan. 6, 2015. Love, who became Utah’s first black female mayor in 2010, continued the tradition of firsts by being the first black Republican woman in Congress.

Despite these milestones, Love stressed that race isn't her agenda.

"I've always stayed away from a lot of the race issues because I've always said first and foremost, I'm a mom, a wife, I'm an American," Love said in an interview with Lisa Riley Roche of the Deseret News. "I'm not defined by my color or my gender. And I want to make life better for all Americans."

In her first year, Love introduced four bills and was the only freshman representative to be part of a select committee investigating Planned Parenthood.

"I think a lot of people were wondering whether I was going to be a workhorse or a 'show pony,'" Love said in the Deseret News article. "By showing up, showing up on time, doing my homework, knowing my stuff, I gained the respect of my colleagues. My colleagues are looking at me like, 'OK, she’s not here just to show off. She’s here to do the work.'"

Former Salt Lake City Mayor Deedee Corradini

Corradini was Salt Lake City's first female mayor, serving from 1992 to 2000. Her accomplishments include finalizing the bid for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games, ensuring women’s Nordic ski jumping was recognized as an Olympic sport, and securing and approving funding for TRAX light rail, among others.

On March 9, 2015, Corradini died from lung cancer. She was 70 years old. She was diagnosed with lung cancer in July 2014 but didn't speak publicly about it until February 2015.

"Our lives will never be the same without her, yet we celebrate her legacy with such joy," her family wrote in a statement that was published in the Deseret News. "We feel her grace, and know she will continue to guide us deeply through her courageous spirit and extraordinary light that lives within us all."

At her funeral, Corradini was remembered "as a visionary leader, a champion of women's rights, a loving life partner and a grandmother who taught her only granddaughter to 'set a proper dinner table and ski black diamond runs,'" according to a Deseret News article.

Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski

Even though Biskupski led by 4.4 percent in the polls on Nov. 4, 2015, it wasn't until Nov. 17 that the results were official. Salt Lake City elected its second woman mayor and first openly gay mayor.

"What a journey," she said, thanking her supporters at the Utah Pride Center when the results were official, according to a Deseret News article. "This wasn't just for me. This is for you, and the rest of the people in this city. I promise we will never lose sight of why we are here and the work that needs to be done. We will affect change. We will experience a cultural shift we have been needing for a very long time, and that is one that includes everybody."

Biskupski made waves when she called for the resignation of many Salt Lake City department heads in November, an act that will carry into 2016.

"Each of these resignations will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, and as soon as possible, I will determine whether to accept individual letters of resignation," Biskupski said in the Deseret News article.

Biskupski was sworn in Jan. 4, 2016, and focused her remarks on working to create a welcoming city, improve air quality, and eradicating crime and homelessness.

Jackie Biskupski's oath of office, Jan. 4, 2016. Video by Scott Winterton

Former Utah Gov. Olene Walker

Walker had a lengthy run in politics with eight years as a legislator, 11 years as the state’s second-in-command and 426 days as governor.

Walker, Utah's only female governor, died Nov. 28, 2015, from incidents caused by age. She was 85.

At her funeral, Walker's son Bryan said one of the governor's fondest memories was being described by a young boy as "the governor who made us read," referring to her signature reading program, the Deseret News reported.

Walker became governor in 2003 after then-Gov. Mike Leavitt resigned to join President George W. Bush's administration. She didn't get the election bid in the 2004 state GOP Convention, despite approval ratings up to 87 percent.

"I was very aware that many candidates had spent two years on gaining delegates and impressing delegates," Walker said in an interview with the Deseret News. "But I was more concerned about proving a woman could be a capable governor than being part of the political process to be re-elected."


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