When I first met Mia Love, she was a city councilwoman, soon to be elected the mayor of Saratoga Springs. She was friendly, outgoing, poised, polished and — I’ll be honest — intimidating (a word I’ve heard applied to myself many times).
She was (and is) a runner, and for more than a decade she and one of my Ethiopian sons crossed paths running the Wasatch Back Ragnar Relay. They were pretty much the only Black runners in the race. We’ve been friends ever since.
I just finished listening to Love’s new book, “Qualified,” and was delighted by it. It was a treat to hear her story in her voice, and I learned a lot about her. I was also reminded of campaigns I volunteered on, attacks she endured and the very unlevel playing field of politics.
Love wove the theme of running all throughout the book: running for something — political office — running to something — embracing principles that mattered to her — and running away from something, including her “own political party leadership,” “the circus that is Washington, D.C., or the rat race of perpetual fundraising for colleagues or the party.”
She learned to “run on little sleep, run an office” and that she got very good at running in heels.
Running to meetings. Running late. Running to meet constituents. Running to or from reporters. Running to vote. Running scared. Running out of patience. Running to catch a plane. Running into buzzsaws. Running to town halls. Running out of energy. Running for reelection. Running, running, running!
“Running for freedom,” she writes, was in her genes. Her father, Jean Maxime Bourdeau, ran from the Tonton Macoute, a “special operations unit” (thugs) for both “Papa Doc” and “Baby Doc” Duvalier in Haiti. At age 14, he hid in an open sewer pipe all night long. His mother was certain he was dead, and her terrified eyes when he returned home instilled in him a desire for freedom. He came to the United States. Then his wife, Mary, joined him. Mia was born in New York City on Dec. 6, 1975.
When she was 5, her family moved to Norwalk, Connecticut. She graduated from Norwalk High School, where she began developing her voice. She has impressive vocal abilities that her time in high school allowed her to use in new ways. Love then went on to the University of Hartford where she graduated with a degree in musical theater.
Love shares the journey that took her from her Catholic upbringing in Connecticut to becoming a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and from amorphous political views to being firmly grounded in conservative principles. “I truly believe,” she writes, “that American dreams are a cottage industry — fostered at home, built with our hands, nurtured in our hearts.”
And she includes experiences from her time in Congress as the only Republican member of the Congressional Black Caucus, and how listening to others helped her understand why different lived experiences help shape different political philosophies. Rep. Cedric Richmond, a Democrat from Louisiana, asked Love why she was a Republican. She shared with him her parents’ story of a brutal and oppressive federal government, how serving on the city council and as mayor had helped shaped her views that the “best government” is the one closest to the people. She said she was always for “bigger people and less government.”
By contrast, Richmond’s experience growing up in Alabama was with local government that created problems for Black people there.
It was the local authorities in Alabama that wouldn’t allow Black people to vote. It was the local police officers that were beating our families, our uncles, our aunts, our mothers, and our fathers with clubs, throwing them in jail and whipping them on the streets. Doing all this as they attempted to march peacefully for progress, dignity, and equality. The people I cared about were beaten up by the local government, and it was actually the federal government that stepped in to protect them.
As Love shared her experiences running for office, and especially for Congress, she did not hold back on sharing some of the nastiness she encountered. Even though she had years of experience in local government, she was told she was not qualified, that she should step aside and wait her turn. Her husband was asked why he “let” her run for office. And, still memorable to those of us who were at the 2012 Utah Republican convention, Mark Shurtleff told delegates that they should pick a “proven conservative” (Carl Wimmer) and not a “token” (Love). She won the Republican nomination with over 70% of the vote.
She even had words for former President Donald Trump, who called Haiti a “(expletive) hole country” and then mocked her when she lost her 2018 election to Ben McAdams. Her quick rejoinder was “I’ve been a Republican longer than he has.” She also wrote that Trump’s “arrogant and insensitive words” reinforced her belief that one could rise to the highest office in the land and “still have significant character flaws, blind spots and elitist attitudes.” “When we anchor ourselves to a political party or to a political figure, we are doomed. Parties and personalities don’t own principles or even policies.”
I loved her call to use our voices, especially women, minorities and other marginalized groups, to lead with character and to empower others. I’ll say again, this book was a delightful read — or, in my case, a delightful listen. I’m happy to call Love my friend.
Holly Richardson is the editor of Utah Policy.