As women demand bigger seat at table in Utah politics, 'Troublemakers' seek to make a difference

Published: Tuesday, March 22 2011 10:00 p.m. MDT

Deidre Henderson, Campaign Manager for Congressman Jason Chaffetz and Jennifer Scott, District Director for Congressman Chaffetz, stand in the Capitol on Thursday, March 10, 2011.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SOUTH JORDAN — It's a Tuesday afternoon at Madeline's Steakhouse, and in the back room 33 of the biggest power brokers in the state have gathered to discuss strategy. As they stab salads and sip Diet Cokes over an audible buzz, it seems that the future of the state's politics, at least to some extent, lies in their hands.

What makes this gathering unique, especially in a place like Utah, is that no one around the table belongs to the boys' club that has traditionally run this state. In fact, with only one exception, everyone here is a woman.

If there's a sign Utah is changing, there is perhaps no better place to look than this monthly meeting of a nascent all-girls club called the Troublemakers. While the name is mostly tongue-in-cheek, it also serves as subtle notice that women, who have traditionally been shut out of Utah politics, are now demanding a seat at the table.

This comes at a time in which women are stepping into the forefront of legislative battles. Rep. Becky Lockhart became the first female Speaker of the House last year and Sen. Luz Robles helped broker a compromise on immigration reform, the most significant piece of legislation this session.

Today's gathering at Madeline's is a who's who of up-and-coming Utah women politicos. Saratoga Springs mayor Mia Love, the only black female mayor in Utah's history, is here, talking shop with Donna Evans, the former mayor of West Jordan, who exudes an aura of sage-like wisdom. Deidre Henderson, Rep. Jason Chaffetz's spunky and polished campaign manager, is a few chairs down, pounding out a text message to schedule an upcoming apointment. On the opposite side of the room Julie Dole divulges details about her campaign for the chairmanship of the Salt Lake County Republican Party — an election she'll win in two days' time.

Then there's Jennifer Scott, the common thread linking together most of the Troublemakers. Scott, Chaffetz's district director for his Utah office, recruited many of the Troublemakers herself. She sets the date for the monthly lunches and sends out invitations via Facebook.

The point of the meetings, Scott says, is to encourage more women to take part in Utah politics, and to help those who are already part of the process to make a difference.

"Troublemakers creates opportunities for other women to see what we're doing and to learn from it," Scott said. "I think people benefit from knowing somebody who's involved in the process one way or another, somebody who they can ask their questions to — and we all have questions."

The bulk of each monthly meeting consists of going around the room and hearing what "trouble" each woman has been up to ( what political activities she is participating in). After everyone speaks, one lucky woman is deemed "troublemaker of the month" and awarded a 99-cent tiara to commemorate the honor.

Although Troublemakers is not aligned with any particular political ideaology, most of the women at Tuesday's meeting speak about working for causes that are in line with conservative principles. The specific issues they're involved with run the gamut from hyper-local (policies of the Jordan School District) all the way to global (United Nations humanitarian efforts). Ultimately, today's shamrock-emblazoned tiara goes to Nicole Martin, a public information officer for the city of Herriman who successfully lobbied for the legislation that replaces Herriman's police fees with property taxes.

Within an hour after the meeting's end, Martin will post onto her Facebook account a photo showing the new tiara proudly displayed on her desk at work.

"We're women who are out there in what's traditionally seen in Utah as a man's world, and we're able to speak up and make a difference in a variety of ways," said Rep. Holly Richardson, a freshman member of the Utah legislature and author of the "Holly on the Hill" blog.

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