Provo will swear in its first ever female mayor on Dec. 5.
Michelle Kaufusi won the race for Provo City mayor on Nov. 7, standing as a statistical outlier representing women in politics, specifically in Utah.
Utah has one of the lowest percentages of women serving on the state legislature. Women make up 15.4 percent of the seats in Utah’s state legislature, compared to Colorado, where women account for 42 percent. The state with the lowest percentage of women serving in state legislature is Wyoming at 13.3 percent.
BYU political science professor Quin Monson said party affiliations play a large role in Utah’s lack of female representation.
“There’s something happening in the Democratic Party that’s allowing more women to get involved that’s just not happening in the Republican Party,” Monson said. “And Utah is a very Republican state.”
Monson said Republicans, as a party, are much more likely to maintain traditional gender roles and do not generally recruit female candidates at entry-level positions.
BYU political science professor Jessica Preece said getting women involved at entry-level positions is critical to improve overall representation, because entry-level positions determine the candidate pool for higher office.
In contrast, Monson said Democrats have made it a priority to recruit and engage women.
Kaufusi is one example of the impact engagement can have. Kaufusi said several friends encouraged her to run for office years before she even considered running.
“About three years ago everyone started to say things like, ‘You need to run for Provo mayor,’ so I decided to go down to the city office and do some research, and found out I was the first female to even file to run for mayor in Provo,” Kaufusi said.
According to the Pew Research Center, one reason many people believe women are underrepresented in leadership positions is because they are held to a higher standard.
Political science professor Jessica Preece said this standard may not necessarily be a higher standard so much as a “masculine standard.”
“Voters tend to think of politics as a masculine thing, so women who have had a more feminine background just don’t fit the mold of what voters think politics should be,” Preece said.
Preece said this standard is an issue because the focus should be on policy and capability, as opposed to filling political stereotypes.
Kaufusi said she believes the best way to make change and get more women involved in government office is by increasing male support.
“When I think of what’s one thing that could make a difference, it’s the men,” Kaufusi said. “If men would support women and see the importance of having women in local government, what a difference it would make.”
Now ready to take on the Mayor’s office, Kaufusi said she strongly encourages young women to get involved in politics whenever and wherever possible.
When Kaufusi first heard the news of her victory she said she felt so humbled and immediately thought of her late mother.
“My first thought was ‘my mom would be so proud of me.’ She passed when I was 20. But she was a single mom and she was a strong woman, and her mom was a strong woman,” Kaufusi said.
First on her agenda is finishing the handful of tasks that the former Mayor Curtis was unable to finish due to his own congressional campaign.
Kaufusi said she plans to be fiscally conservative while in office, but wants to “transition smoothly” and “keep Provo moving forward.”
“The people of Provo have trusted me with this seat, but it’s really not mine, it’s the citizens’ seat. So I’m looking forward to engaging with them,” Kaufusi said.
Heading into the mayor’s office with a historical victory under her belt, Kaufusi said she hopes to make her mother and the citizens of Provo proud. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]