Yes, there is a woman as Speaker of the House. Yes, women make up a majority of the Democratic caucuses on the Hill. But, in the grand scheme of things, women still have very little power in Utah politics.
Former legislator Jackie Biskupski says there’s a cultural bias against women in Utah’s political process that might give some pause when thinking about getting involved.
“There have been some horrific campaigns waged against women that go to a very personal level,” she says. “It does make women shy away. You have to have a thick skin to get into politics to begin with. Men have a thicker skin because they were raised differently. Women need to develop that.”
Another cultural problem, according to Biskupski, is politics isn’t seen as a game women should be playing in Utah.
“A lot of women I talk to who are considering running for office feel they don’t have the support of their husbands or they feel like, culturally, it’s stepping out of a role they’ve been taught to embrace.”
Biskupski says that once women get through those difficult campaigns and start to win they can begin the process of building a power base to help them through the next campaign.
Developing that network of support is another big hurdle because of what Biskupski characterizes as a “boy’s network” on the Hill.
“When you look at some of the committees, there are a few that have no women -- rev and tax, rules. Those are very important committees. On the Senate side, Natural Resources has no women. When a committee is making decisions about the environment without a woman’s voice being a part of the process, that is a hindrance.”
What Biskupski, a Democrat, doesn’t say is it will likely take more Republican women in order to make a substantive impact. Democrats just don’t have the influence or firepower on the Hill to make much happen. Gender equality is a nice idea, but the reality is it will take some substantive gains within the GOP caucus to get to that point.
Another way to get more women involved in Utah politics is at the municipal level -- city councils and mayorships, to be exact. That’s a place where Biskupski may be ready to step up to the plate.
You’ll remember she stepped down from her seat in the Legislature to spend more time with her child. But, that doesn’t mean she’s completely done with politics. There are rumors she is considering running for Salt Lake City Mayor in 2015.
“I have an interest in looking at that race, but it’s a few years down the road. I don’t want to go back to Capitol Hill, but I’m not done with politics. Salt Lake City is a natural place for me to look. I love the city. I have an extensive background in economic development. I really think the city could take advantage of my background.”
If she decides to get into the race, Biskupski admits it will take a lot of money. Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams spent close to a million dollars on his winning effort in 2012, a figure Biskupski says she would have to get close to in order to be successful down the road.
While not saying she’s leaning one way or another, Biskupski does acknowledge it’s a decision that will have to be made sooner rather than later.
“There’s a process you have to follow. You need to get a committee together. You look at your life and ask if you can effect some change if you get involved. Once you decide whether you’re in or out, you can move forward with a timeline to decide what needs to get done.”
Having a woman once again head up Utah’s largest city would be a big step forward for gender equality, which might inspire others to take the plunge, as well. But, 2015 is a long way off.