“It’s really almost died off,” Groom said. “Our organization almost went extinct.”
Quite a sad bit of commentary for Utah, one of the first states where women could vote and home to one of the oldest women’s political groups in the nation, the Women’s Republican Club of Salt Lake City (active since the 1890s).
Groom hopes that she can turn this around, though it’s an uphill battle in a state where the political landscape is dominated even moreso by men than elsewhere in the US. Utah has only one had female governor, one female Speaker, and has not elected a woman to statewide political office since Jan Graham’s election as attorney general in 1997.
“I am not a feminist,” says Groom, who is the youngest state chapter president on the National Federation of Republican Women board. “I don’t believe in women having extra rights, but I want to make sure that they feel like they can and they should be participating in politics.”
Groom got a great round of applause at the recent Senate debate when she said the solution to world’s problem is “when the women of the world unite.”
This isn’t to say that women aren’t playing an increasingly large role in Utah politics. Not just Mayor Mia Love’s Congressional run, but the activity of other high-profile women like Diedre Henderson, Jennifer Scott, Holly Richardson, and Jessica Fawson.
While some men think a group like UFRW will “just be a gossip club,” Groom says many are supportive and some even join. (About 10 percent of her group is male.) Moreover, women’s political groups aren’t just good for the women: they’re good for the party.
“Where we have groups, we have a stronger GOP,” she continued. “Areas without these groups become more liberal, like Wasatch County or Moab. That’s where you see how they’ve started to go more left.”
UFRW recently started a group in Summit County, and the next three on Groom’s list are Kane, Emery, and Wasatch counties. Groom’s goal is to get chapters in every one of the 29 counties, and more in the larger ones.
“I would love to see five groups in Salt Lake County because it’s so large,” said Groom, who is also working on a virtual chapter of the UFRW so stay-at-home moms and others can participate remotely.
“Families and children are a big issue with Utah women,” said Henderson, Jason Chaffetz’s campaign manager since 2008 and a candidate for State Senate herself. “The beauty of living in our day is that we have the benefit of technology. Running a Congressional campaign as a mother of five children, for example, would not have been possible for me if not for the fact that I could do it from the convenience of my home office, which for four years was in my laundry room.”
But the level of participation Groom wants to focus on is the state convention, where women are always grossly under-represented.
“I want to make sure women feel like they can run for public office, but it’s a problem just getting them to run as delegates,” she said.
TOMORROW: Women and the Utah caucus system