Women take on important leadership roles in government, private industry, and the public sector. Notable figures such as “the Squad,” organizations like Real Women Run, and even popular references to the “pink wave” speak to the need to learn from and discuss women who run for public office. Across the political spectrum, 2020 marked yet another historic moment for more women running for office than any previous election. The “Women Who Run” panelists reflected on what inspired them to run for office, the challenges and successes they experienced in government, and how and why more women should run for office in Utah.
Lori McDonald: Good afternoon. I’m Lori McDonald, Vice President for Student Affairs.
On behalf of Student Affairs and Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, we welcome you to another monthly installment of Reframing the Conversation. It is here we address contemporary subjects affecting today’s campus and the community at large. Before we begin our discussion today, I would like to acknowledge
that this land, which is named for the Ute Tribe, is the traditional and ancestral homeland of the Shoshone, Paiute, Goshute, and Ute Tribes. The University of Utah recognizes and respects the enduring relationship that exists between many Indigenous peoples and their traditional homelands. We respect the sovereign relationship between tribes, states, and the federal government, and we affirm the University of Utah’s commitment to a partnership with Native Nations and Urban Indian communities through research, education, and community outreach activities.
Today’s panel discussion, Women Who Run, is being co hosted with our partners from the Hinckley Institute of Politics in celebration of this year’s Women’s Week.
The theme for women’s week 2021 is “Inspiring a Movement.” This week’s events will reflect on the history of women’s political leadership, celebrate women’s contributions to our communities, honor those who have come before us, and facilitate a collective call to action to make the changes that are needed to enact an equitable future. To learn more about this week’s activities, please visit diversity.utah.edu/ww.
Now, it is my pleasure to introduce our partner from the Hinckley Institute for Politics, Morgan Lyon Cotti, who will bring remarks and introduce our moderator.
Dr. Cotti is a former intern with the Hinckley Institute, and a student leader that I remember working with as an undergrad. She now serves as the associate director managing local and legislative internships and contributes to the Hinckley’s political analysis and research. She also serves on the board of directors of Real Women Run, a collaborative nonpartisan initiative to empower women to participate fully in public life and civic leadership through elected political office at all levels, appointments to boards and commissions, participation in campaigns, and engagement in the political system. Thank you, Morgan and Hinckley Institute, for being a partner. I turn the time over to you.
Morgan Lyon Cotti: Thank you so much Dr. McDonald. The Hinckley Institute is so thrilled to be part of this week and the work that Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion has done is really amazing. This week is broad, it’s thoughtful, and it’s really tackling so many of the issues that are so pressing today that needs to be addressed.
For today’s panel, I’m very excited and I actually want to talk a little bit about this pin board that’s behind me. It’s the thing that I get the most comments about in my office. It’s filled with campaign pins and buttons and stickers for many of the campaigns that Hinckley interns have worked on over the past 55 years, but I’ve been thinking about this board and how it is primarily made up of male candidates’ names.
And I have so many amazing young students and amazing women come into my office every semester looking for a local or legislative internship, and they — especially these young women — they light up when they are given the opportunity to work with a female candidate or to work with a woman who is currently holding office and serving the public. That is what I hope people get from this; that inspiration that we need more buttons on my pin board from women. We need more of these voices and these life experiences, and I hope that people are inspired. You don’t even have to be inspired, we just need to get people out there and running and bringing their perspectives to the public, so now it’s my great opportunity to introduce Dr. Erika George who was the Samuel D. Thurman Professor of Law at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law and directs the Obert C. and Grace A. Tanner Humanities Center at the U of U.
Dr. George teaches constitutional law, international human rights law, international environmental law, international business transactions, international trade and seminars in corporate citizenship, if that was not impressive enough. She was the interim director of the University of Utah’s Tanner Center for Human Rights and the university’s 2018-19 presidential leadership fellow. She’s a frequent speaker on human rights, sustainability, diversity, and corporate social responsibility, and has an up a forthcoming book called “Incorporating Rights” from Oxford University Press. We’re so honored that she is our moderator today, Dr. George.
Erika George: Thank you very much, and I am honored to be here today and to have the pleasure of introducing to you some truly inspiring women in our community and facilitating a conversation with them.
Some housekeeping notes first.
Thank you very much for joining. I thank the Hinkley Institute and Lori McDonald, as well as Pamela Bishop and Eugene Contreras who have made this possible today. I’d like you to add your Q and A’s to the Q&A box. If you scroll down to your screen, there’s a toolbar. You’ll see a chat function. You’ll also see a Q&A area. That’s what we’ll be monitoring to take your questions, and you’ll be invited to ask these inspiring women questions towards the end of our conversation.
Next, we will not be following the chat for discussion, so Q&A is there. Other things, please do not be shy, please do ask your questions. We are grateful for the time that our guests have devoted to being with you here today, and I will introduce them now.
We are joined by Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton. Aimee Winder Newton is a former 2020 candidate for Utah Governor and currently serves on the Salt Lake County Council. She was the first woman elected as chair of the council. Since her election in 2014, Aimee has focused on breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty, improving the criminal justice system, advocating for mental health resources, and pushing for greater budget accountability. Aimee is currently the Chief Operating Officer for EVŌQ Energy. She has been a small business owner—working in the mortgage industry for nine years and then starting a public relations firm. She has been involved in the community for over 25 years – serving as a planning commissioner, school community council member, and city communications director. She received her bachelor’s degree in mass communications from the University of Utah. Aimee and her husband, Matt, have been married for 27 years and have four young adult children and a mini goldendoodle puppy. (I also have a goldendoodle!) She Aimee loves to help women get involved in government, play the piano, and travel with her family.
She’s also extraordinary. We had an opportunity to meet a few years ago — actually during Women’s History Month — maybe two years ago or so. I found her always engaging, interesting, charming, and committed to public service. Thank you.
Chairperson Candace Bear. Candace Bear was born in Salt Lake City, raised on the Skull Valley Goshute Reservation, and have lived there for over 30 years. Her father, Leon Bear, was Goshute from Skull Valley and her mother, Tomi Krueger, is Paiute-Shoshone from Reno and the rest of her family is scattered throughout the Great Basin. She majored in political science with a minor in ethnic studies at the University of Utah. She graduated with a BA in 2014 and went directly into the workforce. There is a military base that is located south of her reservation in Skull Valley, UT. She was offered a teaching position at the high school on the base after she graduated. She coordinated with the school district’s Title VII program for American Indianstudents for her county. In 2015, she was elected to the Skull Valley Band of Goshute Executive Committee. By 2018, she began working for the US Census Bureau as the tribal partnership specialist for Utah state and served all tribes located within the state boundaries before transferring to another job opportunity with the Department of Defense for security administration in 2019. She has served on the tribal council through those times and was reelected to the Band’s Executive Committee in 2019.
Thank you, Representative Bear for being with us.
And Angela Romero. A, dear — well, I want to say friend — I have such friendly feelings towards this woman who’s done so much for our community for so many years, so it is my pleasure to introduce Angela Romero. She has always had a passion to serve. Growing up in Tooele, Utah, Angela was raised by her grandparents. Their dedication to raising a hard-working, well-educated woman inspired her to pursue college, graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the University of Utah. In 2012, she won election to represent House District 26 at the Utah Legislature. In 2016, she was elected by her colleagues to serve as the House Democratic Assistant Whip. Her upbringing, paired with her education, gives Angela a unique perspective into the needs of Utah’s growing communities. Now just shy of two decades of public service, Angela splits her time between her work of supporting communities throughout Salt Lake City and her legislative duties that impact the whole of the state of Utah.
And I would also suggest beyond. Angela has been very generous with her time returning to the university, mentoring our students, hiring them as her interns on the hill.
And I know it’s been life changing for many, thank you for that.
So, with that, what we agreed is that I would begin our conversation by asking the women who are with us their origin stories in politics. Their bios told you a bit about who they are, but how they came to be, where they are, I think, would be of interest to many of you in the audience who may be interested in pursuing a similar path. So, Aimee, if I could start with you?
Aimee Winder Newton: Sure! Happy to share. Thanks for having me. I’m so excited to be here with these wonderful women and to be able to share our stories and experiences — basically the things that we’ve learned. I got started in politics when I was, actually, a senior at the U. And during that time, my community of Taylorsville was not a city. We were part of unincorporated Salt Lake County. We started getting frustrated that we felt like we didn’t really have a voice, so I joined with a group of people to help with the incorporation effort for Taylorsville City.
I ended up being the public relations and advertising spokesperson for the effort, and actually ended up working well because my major was in PR at the U. I was able to use it as my senior project as well, but it was awesome to be able to be involved. We felt like founding fathers and mothers of this community when we became a city, and because of that I felt so invested in my community and I wanted to stay involved, so I was shortly thereafter appointed to our planning commission and served there for eight years, which was great as I was raising my babies and didn’t have as much time to give to public service. It gave me a chance to two nights a month to get away and be able to serve my community. Then from there was able to serve in other positions, so that’s kind of where I got started.
Erika George: Right. Just a brief follow up — and I’m springing this on our interviewees — was there a woman who inspired you or encouraged you to go into the public service or political route?
Aimee Winder Newton: You know who inspired me the most…I would say is my mom. And here’s why and kind of the backstory to this incorporation effort:
We lived somewhere where my mom could look out the front window and see this beautiful view of the mountains. And one day she opened her curtains and here was a cell phone tower that was sticking up right in her view that seemed to appear overnight. She said she felt like it was flipping her off. It was so blatantly horrible as far as you know where it was located, and that’s what actually started the incorporation effort for the city of Taylorsville. She got mad about a cell phone tower, and she’s the one who took it to the community council and said, “did this go through the proper process?” They got looking and it didn’t, so I think she’s the only person in history who’s gotten a government body to actually take down a cell phone tower, and that prompted this whole incorporation effort.
You know, my mom was a stay-at-home-mom for 30 years. She didn’t work outside the home. She didn’t even graduate from college, and yet she got involved in her community and kind of showed me how to be engaged and how to make a difference. So I would say that that’s kind of what got me started.
Erika George: That is inspiring. That’s wonderful, so seeing a problem, wanting a voice, and changing it and solving it. And, and seeing another woman lead the way. Fantastic.
Next I’d like to turn to Chairperson Bear. How did you come to be involved in politics? You’re involved in everything, by the way!
Candace Bear: Yeah, I’m a little bit everywhere. I worked for the state before I worked for the federal government. I worked for my tribal government. I really got involved…I would say it is probably when I was first beginning my political science degree over at University of Utah. My father was still the chairperson for Skull Valley Band of Goshutes, and he asked for a little bit of editing involving some policies or resolutions for the tribe. I was a first-generation college student. He graduated high school, so he asked for the expertise, and I helped him in that way.
Then when I graduated, I actually didn’t know directly where I was going, and at the time, elections were happening in Skull Valley. We’re such a small band. However, there is a struggle, I suppose, because we all know each other so well everybody already has an idea of who they would like to be candidates for office. So, at the time when everybody heard I graduated they said, “would you like to run? Would you like to be a part of this? Your family’s been in politics for a long time. How do you feel about it?”
At the time, I knew what it was because I saw my father go through it, but I also felt a sense of duty and respect for the position, so I agreed to do it until this time. I think tribal office is very, very differently for other political positions; there’s a bit of an overlay there or intersectionality that we have which I don’t I don’t quite see another offices. But overall, the challenge I feel like it’s been a wonderful experience. I wouldn’t change it for anything.
I also believe that growing up in a political family, and hearing everything as children – we’re taken into our general counsel meetings and we hear the issues and they’re commonly discussed amongst the families — really the politics starts for all of us at a very young age because ultimately we’re all voting members of the tribe. So there’s really not any separation of those values or of those discourses you know from a very young age, but ultimately whether or not you’re going to step into the council is something else, but that is overall how I got started.
Erika George: Fantastic. And would you say that your father was then your primary motivation or mentor in entering public office?
Candace Bear: You know, it’s kind of funny, when I first started my father did everything he could to say I’m not going to really coach. I’m just going to let you go on your own, because he firmly believed that in politics. He didn’t believe people changed in politics. He believed you truly would reveal who you are when you get into that seat. Who you really are is going to show, so for him it was more of you have to do everything on your own. Your experience has to be your own your words. Everything has to come from you, but I do have a female figure who did inspire me.
Her name was Elaine Poog Ingawanup, and she was from Fort Hall. And when I knew her she was an elder. However, she actually started the Enrollment Department for the Fort Hall Shoshone-Bannock Tribe, and she was the one who oversaw everything. And the reason she was so inspiring is when it came to the time period when she was getting to tribal members she’d be on horse to get to the mountains, to go places. To serve court order, she told me a story where one man actually ran from her, jumped on another horse, and she had to chase after him just to get him documents to sign. She was just so inspiring, and the fact that to her she was serving her tribe. This was her duty. This is what she needed to be done. These were the risks that had to be taken, even life threatening sometimes, but it was ultimately to serve the people. She’s a great inspiration.
Erika George: Wonderful. Wonderful, thank you. And then Representative Romero, how did you come to be in politics? I know your family figured prominently, but where did your journey start?
Angela Romero: It started at the University of Utah. My first day on campus I was approached by a young man named Ross Romero, who I’m not married to or related in any way. People always ask me that. He asked me to get involved with what was called the Chicano Student Association and then it went to the Hispanic Student Union, and then eventually became M.E.Ch.A., but he asked me to get involved. In my first meeting, I was elected secretary of the Chicano Student Association. Then later, I became the founder and chair of M.E.Ch.A. Along that way, I met a lot of people in the Latinx community, so I met a gentleman by the name of Archie Archuleta and a man of the name of Pete Suazo, and they asked me to serve as one of the first student reps on the Utah Coalition of La Raza. From there, Pete Suazo mentored me. He was our first Chicano State Senator, and when he went into the House I was one of his first interns. So at 19, I was up at the Capitol, and I was interning for him and learning about public policy, so that’s kind of what guided me and directed me into going into a career in government. I do work for Salt Lake City Corporation, when I’m not in the state legislature.
Erika George: Wonderful. And is there a woman who inspired you in this work?
Angela Romero: So many women, but I’d say my grandma. It’s similar to Aimee. My grandma was like feisty and she was just like what you see. People when they describe me, they’re like what you see is what you get with Angela. I’m very direct with people, but my grandmother wasn’t more than four foot, eight, with her hair maybe four foot nine. She didn’t even finish high school; she went to eighth grade. She was always someone that just spoke her mind and always stood up for people, so that’s how I was kind of raised. The philosophy of her and Archie were “peace, justice, and equality,” and I call “equality” more “equity” now. That’s kind of the philosophy my grandma raised me and my mentors Archie Archuleta and Pete Suazo kind of provided me with. My life has been directed by these wise elders, as I call them, who have kind of directed me, and that’s why I’m who I am today. But I think a lot of times when people think about who a leader is they just assume is it’s somebody who has a fancy title in front of their name, and for me, a true leader someone that just gives and guides people, and that was my grandma.
Erika George: Great. I love that: a leader is one who gives them guides people. I want to, actually, pick up that point on leadership. It is challenging I think for women in politics in part because of perceptions that culture and society may have around what it is to be a leader.
So I wanted to invite you to speak to how you think women in politics or women in general can overcome sexism or sexist stereotypes that maybe limiting in the public arena, and attract support, and advance women’s equality? Now that’s a compound question, but I’m really just interested in…you probably confronted doubters over the course of your careers. What do you do to dismantle sexist stereotypes and attitudes? Chairperson Bear?
Candace Bear: That’s such a fascinating question to me on so many levels, and I’ll tell you why. I really did not see the facets of this issue actually until I went outside my tribe into state politics, county politics, and federal politics.
Within tribal politics, you do not have such an overlay of sexism. And the reason I say that is because gender, usually — again, speaking from my own tribe — gender usually already has a cultural place, and in many aspects, things cannot happen unless both genders are present. That’s the way we consider things. There are things that cannot happen unless a woman is present. There are things that cannot happen if there isn’t a man present. So when it comes to leadership within the tribal politics arena, it is such a shared venture because, ultimately, you’re here for the people. When one tribe falls, we all fall. I truly believe I haven’t witnessed where it’s really been an issue of sexism. I think power struggle is always there amongst individuals and families, of course.
But in dealing with outside of the tribes, certainly I think that one of the main things that needs to be done is really recognizing what actual issues are in the federal realm and the state realm. What we often see with women in politics is at times there is so many — how can I put it — there are certain things that are picked upon to choose to not listen to women, or to displace them, or to even make it into a personal a personal identity issue.
And I think that by not really taking a step back and really discussing the main reason for why the discussions are even happening…we’re not really here to make this into a gender issue. We aren’t really here because I’m a woman. That is who I am, but that’s just by way of circumstance. Ultimately, I think that what I’ve seen is that they oftentimes do that purposely to win the argument which, I think, if they had the same advantage over men, they would do that as well. But unfortunately, sexism, ultimately is there, and within — I would say –the outside world.
Going against the tropes, going against us there I think you absolutely have to rise above it. I would almost say you’d have to be difficult to get what you need to get. They use that word, right? “You’re being difficult. You’re being overbearing.” But it’s really not. It really is just one human being taking a strong stance on an issue and ultimately not letting it go until you achieve the outcome that [they] wish to achieve. So, for me, I think ultimately perseverance is key to any of these issues. In my experience, that has actually been ultimately what’s helped my Band get to where they need to be is perseverance.
Erika George: So, I will distill that down. That’s fascinating to take out the cumulative advice for people outside of your community. Persistence is what is needed to push back against sexism.
Candace Bear: Absolutely, and you know the other reason I say that is because, again, I’ve seen this. I’ve seen tribal leaders who are male who go out to the outside realm and, again, excuses are found to not listen to them — to displace them. It will often be because they are Indian, which tells me it wouldn’t make a difference, actually, if I stood against them as a man, because then they would tell me it’s because I’m Indian. So either way discrimination would take place and the trope would still be there and played upon.
Erika George: Thank you. Yes, I’m going to put a pin in that. I’ve got a set of questions because we do have items to discuss around identity and intersectionality. I’d like to really hear from…let’s turn to you, Aimee on the question of how do you confront and challenge sexism if you experience it.
Aimee Winder Newton: Well, I think we definitely need to we need to speak up. We can do so in a kind of a non-emotional way and correct people that way. I’ll just give you a few examples.
Um, I was in a meeting once and a mayor from outside my county made a comment. He was talking about a strategy to go before the legislature, and he said, “yeah, I’ll speak. This man will speak, and then, you know, we’ll have Councilwoman Winder Newton in there because she’s pretty. She’ll be there to just help them vote our way” or something like that.
And I sat there shocked. I actually spoke up, and I said “well, I assume you’re going to bring me in too because I have some experience and the leadership to help explain this issue as well.”
And he said, “oh. Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
So I was able to speak up there, but then I actually called him after the meeting and I said – and I don’t know him super well — but I just said, “hey, are you open to some feedback?”
He said “yeah,” and I said “you know, let me explain to you why your comment that you made in that meeting could be hurtful to somebody and demeans what I bring to the table as a woman.”
I explained to him, and he was great. He was embarrassed. He said, “you know that wasn’t what I meant. I was just trying to pay you a compliment.”
I said “I understand, but I don’t want you to get yourself in trouble. You need to understand this perspective.”
He was so grateful, and he’s thanked me several times since for doing that.
I’ve had other situations where I had a mayor, when I was serving on the council, that would constantly interrupt me in council meeting when I was stating a viewpoint that he didn’t like. And so I got to a point where I’d have to speak up and say “I’m not finished yet” or I’d have to speak a little bit louder. I just kind of kept going over him, and I didn’t let him do that to me. I think, you know, we have to sometimes do that.
Other things that we can do is stand up for other women. My very first council meeting seven years ago, I was brand new. It was seriously my very first one, and I was the only female on a nine-member council. They weren’t used to having a woman on the council at that point. We had a woman staffer in the mayor’s office who did the Pledge of Allegiance. As she walked away, one of my colleagues said in the mic, “well, I think that’s the first time we’ve had someone in fishnet stockings do the Pledge of Allegiance.”
And I kind of waited thinking one of my colleagues would jump in and be like “hey, come on,” and they didn’t. So I actually grabbed the mic and I said, “council member, that’s inappropriate.”
That was my first meeting there, and I just think we’ve got to speak up, but we can do it in a kind of respectful way and be able to correct people so that they understand that they are being sexist. I don’t think a lot of these men realize it. I actually think it’s helpful when, you know, they’re open to feedback and we can give that, but we can do so in a way that doesn’t put them on the defensive.
Erika George: Okay, wonderful. So if I take your piece of advice the cumulative advice there…adding on to being persistent, do so in a way that invites education and explaining the nature of the conduct and why it’s not helpful, and why it’s actually harmful. Okay, Excellent.
Angela Romero: It’s an interesting dynamic, because as the Chairwoman and Councilwoman pointed out, there are these intersectionalities and we can’t get past. So when it comes to sexism, I don’t think it has a political face to it. I know a lot of times try to people try to trivialize things that I’m a Democrat, so I’m only talking about Republicans. But I’m talking about sexism in general, because I’ve experienced from both Democrats and Republicans, so I want to put that out there because I’m in the partisan politics world, because I think a lot of times people are in and be like, “0h, well you’re talking about…,” and I’m like, “no, not necessarily. I’m talking about all men in general.”
I agree with the Councilwoman, a lot of the best conversations I’ve had when I’ve had conflict with someone has been based on having that conversation offline and saying, “I heard you say this” and “did you mean this?”
“No, that’s not what I meant.”
But then there are just some people that are just jerks. I’ll just be honest with you, and this has happened to me and Representative Hollins many times. One time, we were in the elevator and someone just assumed we were staff. They didn’t see us as elected officials. We had a colleague one time go, “oh, I didn’t realize you all have master’s degrees,” so again there are these just subtle things.
People don’t sometimes see it as sexist, or they don’t see it as, you know, degrading. Or sometimes someone will tell me I’m “spicy.” There are these little, little things that happen, so for me, the best way to educate an individual is to have those conversations offline. Then if they continue to do them, I’m going to call them out. It depends on the situation you have, to kind of read the room, and know your narrative and know when you have to stand up and say something, but also know when there might be an opportunity to educate someone.
But again, we’re looking at power structures. I think what’s unique for me up at the legislature is not just the one we’re talking about (sexism). It’s also talking about religion. I’m not the predominant religion, and you’d be surprised the conversations that happen where people just assume that you know what’s going on when you don’t. Again, this crosses party lines. For me, a big challenge for me has been, again, that when you’re talking about all of these things and how they intersect and how people view me because I’m not of the predominant religion and a woman of color, you just see things come my way that you might not see come to some of my other colleagues.
I always, always point out Representative Hollins, because she experiences similar things that I do, but also different things because she’s a Black woman. It’s just been really interesting to see how this all plays out: who we are, the legislation we run, and how people interact with us.
Erika George: Thank you for that. First, I’ll speak to intersectionality. It’s a question that I had wanted to explore with the panelists, and it’s something that I think you’ve really explained through your illustration, but it’s the idea that we don’t have any single unitary identity necessarily. There are ways in which we are given or assume identity categories — whether it’s race or gender, religion or class — come together and intersect, connect us with some people, may disconnect us with others, but sometimes help shape how others may see us or how we see ourselves, the way that we are presenting in the world, the way we are presented, and the feedback that we receive from others.
Amidst all of that I’m taking away from your remarks that it’s important to read the room, know your narrative, find these places to inform and educate. Maybe take the conversation offline to lower the temperature and start there.
Angela Romero: Because you can become that person that stereotyping people too. I think a one-on-one conversation sometimes goes a long way, and I’m not saying that there aren’t people that have biases because we all do. We all stereotype. None of us are guilt-free of this, and so whenever I have these conversations, especially when we’re talking about race in general with my colleagues up there because I’m a super minority, I always like to have an open-ended conversation where I let people know I have biases too. I stereotype as well. How do we be construct these? How do we work together to move forward?
They’re just some people that won’t want to move forward, because I mean even up at the legislature this session, “equity” was a bad word. Anytime you said “equity,” it was a bad word. I’m seeing our current governor getting pushed back because he talked about gender equity on social media. So, again, you just don’t know what the climate is so you have to kind of read the room and figure out the climate so you can have these honest conversations.
Erika George: I think what ties together all of your comments is this is really advice going to how to be effective — effective in the roles that you occupy, effective in creating space for more people to also be there and share in it.
That brings me to my next question, and you’ve touched on some of this, but I actually want to ask directly because I think there are a lot of men who have this question. How can men aid in efforts to end sexism and sexist stereotypes. Are there ways that men can do more of this work both personally and politically? It’s Women’s Week at the University of Utah. Where would you like to see men in this conversation?
I guess I will start with Aimee.
Aimee Winder Newton: Well, I think the best thing that men can do is to be advocates for women candidates and for women in general. It’s interesting the biases that we face, and I think people are harder on us as women candidates than their male candidates. I’ll give you an example.
I was doing a focus group, as I was running for governor. We did a focus group, and the owner of the company was very gracious and helped comp some of the costs and stuff for me. We were in a room talking, and he made a comment to my team. He said something about “yeah, I’d like to see Aimee be the county mayor first, and then maybe run for governor.”
And my brother, who also serves in the legislature with Angela, spoke up and said, “oh, did you think Mike Leavitt was a good governor?”
And he goes, “oh yeah, he was a great governor.”
And he goes, “oh, because Mike Leavitt never even had run for office before that, and Aimee’s been serving in public office for seven years even chairing the county council that represents 40% of the state’s population.”
I was so appreciative because, you know, I mean I had other male colleagues in the race who had never run for office before, and yet people were harder on me because of my experiences. The way I appreciate those male colleagues who are willing to stand up for us, who are willing to support us, who are willing to donate to our campaigns. I mean those allies are so critical for us.
Erika George: Wonderful, and wonderful example with somebody in the moment, explaining or noting that you know this is differential treatment. Okay, Chairperson Bear.
Candace Bear: So, great question. I think two of the ways that men can aid efforts is really assumption and how they speak about women overall. In my case, I would say what I’ve seen is that many times there is an assumption of who women are, what their background is, what they’re capable of certainly. Best example I can really give on that is I remember we had a spectator from the outside — a non-native spectator — who got to witness a shinny game. And she is a game amongst the Great Basin tribes that only women can play. Men are not allowed to play shinny, and it’s very similar to lacrosse. It’s a very, very aggressive game, and it’s very dangerous. We have people who’ve been to the ER. You can lose an eye. You can get severe lacerations. It’s very brutal. But again, it’s a game only for women, women only play against women. And when this non-native person watched the game, they said, “I never knew a game like this can be played by women to that level.”
And I think that also goes into the political realm. Men have an assumption that women will not take chances, will not take stances that men will take. And so, when it does happen, it’s either met with some confusion or it’s met with outright hostility of “how dare they. I never expected they would do that. I never thought they would do that.” So I think with that assumption, they are not absolutely treating us as equals even in that way. They do not have a vision of what we are capable of, which is we’re people as much as any other human beings capable of and certainly even having the distinction of making that line there.
I think that also goes along with what I said about how they speak about us and the objectives that are used: that we’re submissive, or more prone to kindness, or more people-oriented. I don’t believe that’s true. I have met many men who are way more people-oriented than I am. I’m a complete introvert. I can tell you that right now. And I just like how Representative Romero had mentioned, I’m very blunt. I can go into a meeting, be in and out within 15 minutes, tell you why I’m there, what I need, and then be out and get a yes or no. That’s all I need to know.
And so I think that those two ways definitely need to change when it comes to men. They can help in that way.
Erika George: Okay, questioning, interrogating their own assumptions if they’re a man. Some of it is assumption, but I wonder if some of it is also limited exposure — not having been exposed before to women who are willing to challenge, to question, to educate, to inform, or maybe not being interested. I don’t know, but that’s why I’m thrilled you’re here. Okay. Representative Romero.
Angela Romero: I don’t want to repeat what the two other panelists have pointed out, because they’ve made some excellent points. But I also think listen.
A lot of times there are men who surround us who think they know what we’re saying, but they’re not really listening. Again, for me this crosses party lines. I don’t want people to think, because I’m in the House that I’m not talking about Democrat men too because I am. Some of my biggest struggles have been with them, and so it’s about listening to us and what we’re saying.
Again, I often get told that I’m too assertive, or I’m too direct. You know, I take that feedback, but I’m not going to change who I am. Sometimes, I think it might be somebody needs to listen to what I’m actually saying, not trying to box and put me into a particular box of how a woman should act.
I think the other panelists covered it, but I mean that’s kind of what I would say is listen to women, listen to our voices, listen to where we’re coming from, and listen. Because again, people don’t listen to each other anymore. They talk at each other. When you listen, you learn, but a lot of people don’t have the patience or want to take the time.
Erika George: Okay. Yeah.
Aimee Winder Newton: Erika, can I add one more thing to that? When I was running for governor, my husband said to me “I didn’t think men in this state were sexist, like I know there’s some, but I didn’t think overall that there was this pervasive sexism until you ran for this.” And he goes, “and now I see it everywhere.” And it really opened up a perspective to me where I thought, “you know, I don’t think a lot of people realize this. We’re not very introspective sometimes.”
So when we did our first TV ad for my campaign, at the beginning we show some text messages that I got that say things like, “there’s no place for women in politics or government period.” I got another one that said “just go home and cook and clean instead.”
And we actually showed those actual texts as part of that TV ad just because we wanted to have some education, if you will, but, you know, women are getting this. This is something that we see. It was so eye-opening to me that my husband didn’t see it. That it was happening a lot until that experience.
Anyway, I just think there are a lot of people out there who don’t realize what we go through as women.
Erika George: Because they don’t go through it, right? It’s an experience that would be completely and utterly alien to many men putting intersectionalities aside.
So, actually your answers have combined into the question I had intended to ask, so I’ll ask something else. Little bit of a negative spin — just work with me here — you’ve talked about not being heard, not being listened to. You’ve shared insulting texts. Why would you advise a woman thinking about running for office to run for office, assuming that you would? Why should women get into politics? It does not sound pleasant.
Yes, Councilwoman Winder.
Aimee Winder Newton: Well, first of all, to be able to make a difference for your community is one of the greatest things that you can do. When you can set policy that actually changes people’s lives and helps them, really truly there’s nothing better than that. It’s hard. We do get a lot of backlash. We get a lot of negative things, and you know what the good news is your skin does grow thicker.
Even as you run for office, there’s things that you have to look at to try to figure out. You know, how am I going to be able to have people take me seriously as a candidate and get my message across and do good things while at the same time being true to myself?
For instance, when I ran for governor, I had read some studies that talk about how women with long curly hair aren’t taken as seriously in a government or business setting — I know this is crazy, right? At the time my hair was pretty long, and so I actually made the decision to cut my hair really short. So I cut it in a short a-line when I ran. I also changed my purse. So instead of having a big mom bag that I was carrying around, I got a very slim small purse that I would take to meetings, because I understood the data of how men perceive some of those things.
Now some look at it go, “well, you’re not being true to yourself” and maybe that’s the case, and running for statewide office is a whole different ballgame than my county council race. But then there’s other things I did. I had my minivan in my TV ad, and when I went to parades, I used my minivan to be part of our entourage, because I wanted people to know you can be a mom, and you can have a minivan, and you can run for office, and it’s okay.
I think there’s this funny balance of, you know, you want to be able to recognize the biases and how you can overcome some of that so that you can be able to get in the door and get your message heard and make a difference, but you also need to be true to who you are. It’s an interesting thing.
When I was debating on the Silicon Slopes stage for one of our gubernatorial debates, I was the only woman with five men. There was this big debate with my staff on what do you wear. Do you try to look more like the men with a dark jacket and a white shirt underneath, or should you stand out and be were very feminine outfit? We all just finally laughed and decided it doesn’t matter; they know I’m a woman. It’s not going to matter what I wear. That doesn’t matter. It was such an interesting experience, but man, running for office is such a great experience. Even though I lost the governor’s race, I came in third at a Republican convention of the seven candidates and didn’t get a chance to move on. I don’t regret it for a second, I had such a wonderful experience running, getting to meet people talking about policy, and in my current elected role it is so fulfilling to be able to make a difference.
Erika George: Wonderful. And, you know, third out of seven, I just want to say and I believe this is true — we were talking before, and I hadn’t fully done my research — but don’t most people run once before they win anyway or run multiple times? Maybe another lesson is don’t quit — the persistence piece of the conversation we’ve had. Okay, Representative Romero.
Angela Romero: Can you repeat the question? Sorry.
Erika George: Why would you advise a woman thinking about going into politics or running for public office to actually do so?
Angela Romero: I think we bring a different voice. The Legislature, when you look at the demographics up there compared to our community they don’t match when it comes to gender, when it comes to race/ethnicity, when it comes to religion. So, for me why I ran for office is because I wanted to make sure there was a voice heard. When I first started in the legislature, we really didn’t talk about child sex abuse like we do now or sexual assault. Former Representative Seelig started talking about sexual assault and human trafficking, but I was able to bring awareness to certain legislation and was successful in passing legislation. And I’m still fighting for certain pieces of legislation like consent and others, but I felt like me coming into the legislature opened the conversations to conversations that were maybe happening but weren’t happening at the level they should have been. I’ve just seen me change the narrative and kind of change the script when it comes to those particular issues that impact all communities, but people just didn’t really want to. I’m not saying people don’t want to, but people just…it wasn’t their priority like it is for me.
Erika George: Okay, wonderful, um, we have questions from the audience, and I know that represented Romero has to leave us relatively quickly.
These are long questions. I will abbreviate, but there’s a question from [an audience member], who is referring to an incident that happened in February that was involving insensitive comments from another senator who was apparently, unable to distinguish you from Senator Escamilla and said they’re both Latinas. Then there was somebody else reminding them of national jokes. Anyway, I think the question in all of this is there was not any discussion after that meeting, and it went on as usual — perhaps you’ll recall the details of this. As a woman of color, how did you react to this or did you even know about it? (I don’t know if you knew.) Has there been any further discussion about the incident?
So this is an incident that is racially insensitive, racially tinged, perhaps racist. I think the question or wants to know how do you respond when those kinds of things occur. You’ve given us a bit.
Then the other question is from [an audience member], who asked the panel to comment on asking a person to understand what is it that you’re saying, so this goes to the piece of educating when you’re confronting those kinds of comments.
I’ll think I’ll stay with those two questions. One, on unfortunate comments made either in your presence or out of your presence asking you to speak to it for everyone. Is it best to peel away the layers of bias when you’re confronted with them by not just telling someone educating them this could be offensive, but asking what they mean by it first?
I guess we’ll start with you, Representative Romero.
Angela Romero: Yeah, I have to jump off here shortly. You know, I heard about the good senator thinking he was being funny and teasing Senator Escamilla by calling her Representative Romero, because the first day of the session there was a picture in the Salt Lake Tribune of me getting my nose swapped and they miscategorized her. On the picture they instead it was Senator Escamilla instead of me, so he thought he was being funny and so I had to explain to him why he wasn’t being funny and why that was a jerk move. I was just very honest with him and I use some very colorful language when I had that conversation with him. He apologized to both me and Senator Escamilla, because he thought he was being funny because he is making fun of people always mixing it up — me and Senator Escamilla. But I had to explain to him why it wasn’t funny. With that particular senator, I could have an honest direct conversation with him so that’s why he shut up after.
But this happens to me and Senator Escamilla quite a bit as well as former Representative Rebecca Chavez. How people think we look the same, when we don’t. There’s an age difference between all three of us. I’m taller than both of them by like…you know, and so it’s just it’s been interesting to see how people want to make us one person. We all have different personalities, and so with that particular senator, I wanted to let whoever asked that question that Senator Escamilla and I had a comment with him and he realized he was being a jerk. I just wanted to put that out there, but this is something we experienced all the time. People think they’re being funny when they’re not being funny. And that’s why you have to have these honest conversations. There are lots of stereotypes about who I am and, again, it crosses party lines.
When Sandra Hollins was given the slave label two sessions ago, and I spoke out on her behalf, I had backlash within my own. I don’t want to dig into something that’s already been resolved, but when people think that they’re woke per se they might not necessarily be. I want people to know this is much larger; this is an institutional issue. This is a structural issue. And if we can’t even have conversations about equity, and if we can’t have conversations about structural racism and how is embedded in our culture, then we’re not going to be honest with each other. Me being an elected official, those are the challenges I take on, and I’ll continue to take those challenges on. But knowing that those obstacles are there, knowing that people don’t want to have those conversations, but there’s individuals like me like Senator Escamilla and Representative Hollins and the other quad members who will continue to push those conversations, but unfortunately I have to go.
But I just want to thank you all for having me as part of the panel, and I’ve enjoyed the conversation.
Erika George: Thank you. Thank you very much.
We have a final question from [an audience member] in the Q&A, she summarizes for us statistics on women’s representation, which is relatively abysmal in politics. Utah’s had only one female governor, never an elected female governor. Utah has only nine Republican women and 22 women serving in the Utah State Senate.
Long story short, the question is: with these statistics, do you believe in the goal of gender parity for politics, and do you believe it’s important to have a descriptive representation or social perspective representation for women? There isn’t really further explanation of distinction being drawn by that questioner, so I leave it to you to respond as you’d like.
Chairperson Bear, I’ll turn to you first. I think the context may be a bit different, but if you have thoughts.
Candace Bear: You’re right. The context is very different. So let’s just go off the statistics, numbers-wise when speaking about tribal politics, I mean, if I again just point to my own Band, there’s only 154 of us left.
So when we talk about, again, gender, any sort of parity being spoken about in politics. I think we’re at a point where that’s gone — that issue. If we have a good leader, if we have a good representative who’s willing to stand up for us, that’s who will go with. Ultimately too, I think it’s a bit different from a tribal perspective because amongst the female tribal leaders I’ve seen, and if you ever go to the National Congress of American Indians, there’s a lot of female leaders. Sometimes there’s years where there’s more female leaders than men, and there’s a lot of reasons behind that. It could be that it’s a matriarchal society, it could be that the men do not have that specific role necessarily, and it could be the woman representatives prefer to speak for the tribe rather than a man, and at times even it’s because the men — and this is a very important part — do not have the same strong cultural stance within the tribe while a women’s culture has been preserved so therefore women are the more dominant within the tribe that happens as well.
But will it happen? I think it really has happened within tribal politics, I think the main issue that we have as tribes is oftentimes, we are unfortunately always in confrontation with either state or federal governments. So in reality, those other politics are happening outside of us. We often don’t feel that we’re part of them, or that we can be part of them because we’re always going to be running against them.
And, you know, it’s unfortunate that we can’t necessarily have that same focus because it really is a matter of unity, that coming together and being able to share those same issues, but unfortunately that’s not the case of this time.
That’s the best opinion I can give to that question. It’s a very big question. I hope that Miss Newton has a little more to add than I do, but that’s what I can offer.
Erika George: And Councilperson Winder Newton?
Aimee Winder Newton: Well, I mean. I think diversity is always great, and when we have on our councils and in our legislatures when we have diverse opinions it’s so important. I also know that there’s a Harvard study that shows that when you have both men and women at the table in business or in government, you have better outcomes, and so you know that diversity is so important.
Personally, I think you, you should vote for the best person who’s going to be the best leader, and I don’t like to use my gender as a reason for people to support me. I want them to support me because I have good ideas, and I’m smart, and I know how to get things done, and I’m a hard worker. Those are reasons I want people to support me.
I do think that the way we can change this, though, is by getting more women to run. And I focused, a couple years ago, on that very thing. I recognized that a lot of women weren’t jumping into races or weren’t getting involved because they felt like they didn’t know enough. You know, men are a little more daring to just take the bull by the horns and jump into a job or or run for office when they don’t know all of know everything, whereas women kind of want to do their homework first. So I started offering classes in my home to women to teach them about government at every level, so that they felt like they knew enough. It was basic civics. It wasn’t like anything really great. It just was kind of basic government reminder of here’s how it works and here’s who does what and everything else. We had some of those women run and win.
And I just think as we have more people that run for office that are diverse, then we’re naturally going to get more diversity, and those people we will elect the best leaders. And they will be in a lot of those cases women and minorities and people who are going to be able to take a seat at that table and make a difference for our communities.
Erika George: Wonderful. Let’s hope so. It is time for me to conclude, and thank you very much to our panelists. I’m turning this back over to Lori McDonald. Thank you.
Lori McDonald: Thank you so much, Erika and panelists. That was incredibly inspiring. There are so many notes of gratitude in the chat if you have a chance to take a look.
I also want to thank the Hinckley Institute for helping assemble such a distinguished panel and KRCL who will be re-broadcasting this session on their program RadioACTive.
Thank you to the entire Women’s Week planning committee, led by Dr. Annie Fukushima and EDI team, for planning another week of inspiring events. Please plan to join us for some of these remaining events, as we aim to inspire a movement amongst women throughout Utah. To learn more about them, please visit the website at diversity.utah.edu/ww.
Thank you, again. We very much appreciate everyone’s participation.
The resource lists are intended as a starting point for support and community in Utah and the U. For a more comprehensive list of resources, please visit the Women’s Resource Center’s website.