Record number of women serving in state legislature

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – We are down to the final weeks of this year’s legislative session and more Utah women than ever before are participating in the lawmaking process.

Election night brought an historical movement for women in our state, making it a new day in the Utah legislature.

Women now take up 25 seats between the House and Senate, more than ever before.

“This was a record-breaking year for women running for office, both nationally and here locally. And, I think it shows that more and more of us are stepping up, and getting involved and running for office,” said Representative Suzanne Harrison, (D) Draper.

Harrison flipped an open seat in House District 32.

She’s one of 19 women serving in the House out of 75 total members.

In the Senate, Senator Kathleen Riebe is one of 6 women out of 29 total members.

She took on an incumbent and flipped Senate District 8.

“I think women bring a higher degree of compassion to this position. As mothers and caretakers of our families we understand the struggles of that,” said Riebe, (D) Cottonwood Heights.

Now, just a few weeks into their legislative careers, both have high hopes of making an impact.

Harrison, a medical doctor, is serving on the transportation, economic development, and workforce services and the natural resources committees.

She says those suit her goals well.

“Things I’m passionate about are air quality, education, clean water, making sure we have affordable healthcare for folks,” said Harrison.

Riebe, a teacher serves on the transportation, technology, government operations and most of the education committees.

She’s laser-focused on the latter.

“As a teacher, one of my biggest goals is to bring some more resources to our kids, and resources that are directed to data-driven results,” Riebe said.

Both lawmakers say it’s an honor to be part of the largest female class at the Utah Legislature, but point out it’s still not reflective of the overall picture.

Women make up about half of the general population of Utah, but only 24% of the legislature.

“I would hope that we would get closer to a 50% representation,” said Riebe,

There’s still a long way to go, but Harrison says a recent focus from local organizations is helping make strides.

“This is where organizations in the community, like Real Women Run, the Women’s Leadership Institute are so important in getting out there in the community and reminding people that we need more voices up here,” said Harrison.

She’s encouraging other women to step up to the challenge but says that’s only part of the equation.

“I don’t believe people voted for me because I’m a woman. I think people voted for me because I stepped up to run, I’m qualified and I was a great candidate. And, I think as more and more women realize that they have a skill set and a voice that’s really needed up here, they too will hopefully throw their hat in the ring,” Harrison said.

This is an issue across the country. The national average for female representation in state legislatures is only 28%.

Only one state has 50% of its legislature made up of women and that’s Nevada. Another neighbor, Colorado is close behind at 47%. That’s according to the Hinckley Institute of Politics.

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Glen Mills

Chief Political Correspondent

 Glen is honored to be delivering the news of the day every weeknight at 5, 6, and 10 in his home state. He is an award-winning veteran journalist, who joined the ABC4 News team as a weekend anchor in June 2013. Over the years, he held various positions at the station as he worked his way up to the main anchor chair. He also serves as our Senior Political Correspondent and hosts Inside Utah Politics, which airs every Sunday. The Utah Headliners Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has recognized Glen as the best government and military television reporter in the state. Before returning home to Utah, he spent 11 1/2 years developing his journalism skills in other states. He held various on-air and management positions at KPVI in Pocatello, Idaho, WGBA in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and KKCO in Grand Junction, Colorado during that time. Read More...