Women in Utah Politics: 2012
A Response to the Salt Lake Tribune
April 12, 2012
A friend of mine sent me a supportive message about my campaign a few days ago. “Well behaved women rarely make history.” I like the sentiment. But, in Utah, women – well behaved or not – don’t make it into politics. Of course there are exceptions, thankfully. But with the tradition of being the first state in the union to give women the legal right to vote, Utah has the fewest women elected to the state legislature. For republican women, the problem is even more pronounced.
Consider, I am currently a candidate for Utah House District #52. As of right now, I count four Republican women in the Utah House. There are twice that many women serving as Democrats. Together, these women constitute only 14 out of 75 seats, or 18%. This is worse than the statistics reported two years ago when KSL, the Deseret News, the Utah Foundation and the Hinckley Institute published research on this very topic. Back then, KSL reporter John Daley asked the natural question, “Why the disparity?” The answer at the time was the “poll didn’t look at that.”
Two years later, anyone who read the Salt Lake Tribune yesterday can see one of the reasons behind this disparity and it’s staring all of us right in the face. As a political candidate I expect to be scrutinized, vetted, and even in some cases “attacked” but Tribune reporter Tom Harvey’s article “Utah Legislative candidate is wife of accused swindler,” does not attack me as a candidate, but as a woman.
The article ostensibly addresses three basic subjects; first, the controversy surrounding my husband’s legal battles; second, a year-old podcast of my husband’s ex-wife supposedly revealing that I am a “closet” polygamist; and third, my stated political agenda to curb the powers of the Utah Department of Commerce and Francine Giani. When examined closely however, Mr. Harvey’s bias is quite obvious.
My husband’s legal controversy. I’m the first to admit that this topic, at first glance, is indeed newsworthy. As such, I discuss it openly on my campaign website. I have repeatedly explained publicly that one of my unique qualifications for political office is my first hand experience with the consequences of government over-reach, and corruption. However, what Mr. Harvey ignores in his story is the support of my position against the alarmingly high degree of corruption and unethical behavior in Utah Government by the independent Center for Public Integrity who just released their March 2012 study that ranks Utah as the 36th most corrupt state government in the nation. Of course, that is news – but it isn’t as salacious as attacking a woman candidate for the supposed past acts of her husband.
Of course, its not news to any Salt Lake Tribune reader that my husband has been in a several years long battle with very harsh state and federal allegations. But, why did the Tribune choose to run this story now? Tom Harvey admitted on the phone yesterday, it was to influence the outcome of this Saturday’s Salt Lake County Republican Nominating Convention. Okay, fair enough. But, what he doesn’t state openly is that his story is an almost word-for-word re-hash of a story published by Eric S. Peterson of the Salt Lake City weekly. Why is that important? Eric Peterson has been the chief media antagonist of my husband for several years and currently campaigns for and advocates in his paper for one of my competitors in Utah House District #52.
Now, I invite the reader to take a step back and ask, how many other candidates have had the Tribune report anything about their spouse or husband? In the present pool of candidates there are men whose wives have been convicted of crimes, there are other candidates and spouses who have fought government regulators, and there are candidates who have recently been accused of serious illegalities. Oddly, not one story has run this week, on these topics – only this one, on my campaign.
The Polygamy Attack. This attack by the Tribune is something I would hope all fair-minded citizens could condemn. Whether or not you support my candidacy, or me, this kind of trafficking in tabloid style gossip is really beneath civil politics. Consider, the Tribune doesn’t one time overtly accuse me of being a polygamist. But, after spending 24 hours editing back his story to avoid a lawsuit and possible criminal charges for violating Utah’s election code, Mr. Harvey simply point his readers to a podcast, published over a year ago, by my husband’s ex-wife. In this podcast, a woman fictitiously named “Laura” apparently contemplates a polygamist relationship. Mr. Harvey wants his readers to surmise by assumption that “Laura” in that story is me. Never mind the fact that even my husband’s ex-wife apparently refused Mr. Harvey’s request to make that connection, what’s worse is that this is outright slander. Then, unsatisfied that his innuendo will be sufficient, Mr. Harvey goes on to write, “On her campaign web page, Skousen touts a family life with eight kids.” The intended message – in context – appears to be that such “touting” is somehow questionable and that for a reason unspoken, I’m not really a “valid” mother.
Again I invite the reader to answer a basic question. Why is the Salt Lake Tribune attacking my political campaign with insinuations based upon a fictionalized podcast published a year ago by my husband’s ex-wife? Is it really news that an ex-wife says supposedly damaging things her husband’s new wife? Further, and more directly, while the allegation that I have ever contemplated living in polygamy is false, what is the Tribune saying about those who have? Is it the Tribune’s public position that even those who contemplate polygamy should be shunned socially, religiously and politically? Why? Finally, while I can quite categorically deny that I’ve personally considered polygamy as a lifestyle, is it really that surprising that in Utah, with our cultural traditions and religious background, that questions like this might occasionally arise in the intimate personal struggles of some Utah citizens?
Another question that should be important to fair-minded readers is, why, for no apparent reason other than casting aspersions on a political candidate, is the Tribune willing to expose private Utah citizens to public ridicule (in this case, my husband’s ex-wife) by exposing and then speculating as to the supposed identities and factual veracity of “anonymously” told stories, told to a support group, by someone apparently struggling with their personal faith?
Still not satisfied, Mr. Harvey goes on to take issue with my name, writing, “Jewel Skousen’s given name was Jewel K. Kimber. But after a 2006 divorce, she started using the last name of her grandfather, the late Cleon Skousen, an LDS icon of far-right politics.” Of course, it is a common practice for women who marry to change their last names, and often when they divorce to change their name again. Is this now a political issue? Apparently, Mr. Harvey’s point is that as a woman, since I changed my name to Skousen, I haven’t somehow earned my place in my grandparents’ family and therefore in Utah politics. Of course, my male colleagues are immune to similar criticisms this week. In hindsight, perhaps the Tribune would have given me a pass on this whole “name” controversy if I had only reached out in advance to Deseret News and KSL contributor Richard Burwash. For men running for office, Mr. Harvey apparently has one standard, and for women – another.
My Commitment to Fighting Corruption. Significantly, the Tribune did not run a story about this topic when I announced my candidacy on March 15th and Mr. Harvey chose not to run this story after his colleague Mr. Peterson ran a similar piece in the Salt Lake City weekly. But, less than 24-hours after I published the name “Francine Giani” on my campaign website, Mr. Harvey was on the phone threatening to run this story with or without comments from me. I’m sure it must be just a coincidence. On the other hand, one of these days, someone at the Salt Lake Tribune is going to look up the definition of the word journalist and realize it’s not a synonym for government spokesperson. In fact, on this topic, and in preparation for his story Mr. Harvey asked me several pointed questions about Ms. Giani and my anti-corruption agenda. Not surprisingly, he didn’t publish a single one of my responses. [Note: the reader can find Mr. Harvey’s original questions and my full responses published contemporaneous with this letter at http://www.jewelskousen.com.]
Finally, brining this back to the question I raised at the beginning, to Mr. Harvey and the Salt Lake Tribune, there really are no well-behaved women in politics – especially if they are Republicans. Nevertheless, conventional wisdom in Utah suggests that the reason women are so little represented in politics is that we “self select” out of the process. I’m sure this may be a small part of the problem. Generally speaking, we don’t like or appreciate Mr. Harvey’s kind of senseless approach to politics. Women can generally see through the attempt to manipulate hurt feelings of ex-wives and the nonsensical questioning of our names after marriage or divorce. Even more importantly, we can see past the entire reason why the Salt Lake Tribune would publish a story like this in the first place.
Women (and I think most fair minded men) would rather see stories about the candidates and their platforms. If there is going to be criticism, it should be fair and relevant. Unlike men, in my experience, women don’t enjoy the “politics as blood-sport” type of mentality that so often defines campaigning and we are easily exasperated at the Tribune’s style of muckraking.
Women, I think, have a unique perspective on the fact that all people – even political candidates – have real life stories. Sometimes life experience isn’t pretty and doesn’t fit neatly into the false constructs of a highly sanitized political campaign – but does that mean we should simply stay out of public political contests? Sadly, in the past, the answer has too often been yes. Today, many women are pushing back and I have confidence that the Tribune’s fair-minded readers are smart enough to look past Mr. Harvey’s proscription for a pretentious, media approved life story, in order to even qualify as a “valid” candidate for political office. A good journalist would spend the time it takes to inform the electorate about what makes a candidate tick, what they would do if elected, and how effective they might lead on important issues.
In conclusion. I simply say to men and women alike, that this is not an easy battle. But, it is obvious that there is a fight to be fought. If we want more than what we’ve been getting, we can’t let people like Tom Harvey tell us who to elect – based on tabloid style, gossip based “hit” pieces. We have to count on our chosen delegates to spend the time necessary to make good decisions about who is running, why they are running, and what they will do. It has to be more than a popularity contest. Whether we elect men or women it requires courage from our candidates. As anyone following politics must realize, a leader has to be willing to be attacked by those individuals and interests who do not want to be exposed.
Freedom is not won, or protected, without battling those who would abuse it, or expel it completely. I take courage from, and admire the historic example of countless women who have not been chased from the public square by those attacking their dignity and chastity – because of politics. I will not be chased out of the public square by lies and innuendo. I will not be quieted or silenced by allegations that I married a man who is accused – and in our free society – innocent until proven otherwise. I refuse to believe that intelligent, thoughtful delegates and Utahans cannot see the Salt Lake Tribune’s most recent story on my campaign for exactly what it is.
Freedom, for a woman, also means being free from this kind of bullying and harassment – whether it is being perpetrate by media, government, or private citizens. My entire life is committed to standing up for freedom, for all citizens, at a time when America needs a few more people who realize just what it means to take such a risk.
I wonder if Mr. Harvey even noticed that my husband’s ex-wife was one of the first of my Facebook friends to “Like” my campaign page. You see, despite our differences – and our quite different stories – women like us work together everyday to raise our children, to educate them, and to prepare them for the modern world. The time is coming when fewer and fewer of us are going to be intimidated and bullied to make way for others. Today, I stand as a woman, as a mother, and as a Republican – but most importantly I stand as a free, individual citizen running for Utah House District #52, to make good on the admonition that we must “stand up for freedom, no matter what the cost!” It will save our souls, and maybe our country.
Regardless of whether you are a man or a woman, I am reaching out to those of you who can see past this kind of nonsense and focus on what matters most, in this election and in our daily lives. Freedom.