When I ran for a special election more than a decade ago, I had volunteered on a couple of congressional campaigns and I thought I knew what campaigning entailed. In reality, I did not have a complete picture of all the moving parts of a campaign. It was far more nerve-wracking than I had anticipated, and even though I ended up winning that race, I wanted to throw up every day. Looking back, I wish I had had more training and more mentoring.
Too often, when women think about running for elected office, from PTA president to Congress, they aren’t sure where to start. Utah Women Run is there to help. First organized as Real Women Run in 2011, Utah Women Run is a nonpartisan organization now housed in the Hinckley Institute of Politics on the campus of the University of Utah.
The organization is run by a group of volunteer female leaders from higher education, nonprofits, the political world and the business community. As they have organized trainings, they have brought in national and local speakers, including women who have run for school boards, for city council, in mayoral races, for state legislative seats and statewide seats, women who run nonprofits and who work in academia. Women across the state can attend trainings that offer classes on communicating in a campaign, serving on boards and commissions, getting out the vote, knowing where to get voter lists and more.
It’s not just about being the candidate, however. Women involved in the community can look a variety of ways. It can mean showing up for city council meetings or school board meetings. It can mean advocating for issues impacting families, or serving on the local library board. Kendra Seeley, former secretary for the Utah Republican Party, noted that “Politics may not be for all women, but women can shape public policy in a very positive and pragmatic way. Supporting women in leadership positions helps to develop a pipeline that Utah will most certainly benefit from.”
We are headed into a municipal election year. As I wrote previously, the time to start getting ready for next year’s races is now. In Utah, approximately one-fourth of our mayors are women. Of the 60 female mayors, 13 are mayors of cities with populations of 30,000 or more. Most, however, serve in cities of populations of 10,000 or less. Of city council members, just under 30% are women.
Local politics have the most direct impact on our day-to-day lives. If you want to run for office, great! Rebecca Chavez-Houck says, “If there’s a position that’s of interest to you, do your homework; learn about the stakeholders whose lives are impacted by that position, assess what you bring to the table, and then jump in.” If you want to help support someone for office, start by asking them to run. Tell them what strengths you see them bringing to the table, offer to connect them with others who can help and then pony up time, financial support and emotional support. All candidates need it.
Morgan Lyon Cotti, associate director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics and current chairwoman of Utah Women Run, said, “Utah Women Run has a new name and a new home, but we are committed as ever to our mission of empowering women to engage fully in the political process. Our state has so many women that could be amazing leaders, but they don’t think they have the skills or the experience to run for office or become more civically engaged. Utah Women Run is here to provide the training and mentorship so women feel confident and prepared to enter public life.”
On Tuesday night, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Utah Women Run will hold a post-election get-together at the Hinckley Institute of Politics, with special guests Chavez-Houck and Becky Edwards, both former members of the Utah House of Representatives.
Edwards, a recent candidate for the U.S. Senate told me, “Utah provides a tremendous legacy for women from our early days as a territory and state as well as before that time. I applaud the many women across this state who are adding the political sphere to the areas where their impact is already being felt. Our collective support helps add much needed additional diverse women’s voices to the choir. Let’s keep going!”
Holly Richardson is the editor of Utah Policy and on the advisory board for Utah Women Run.