On Thursday, Sept. 13, The Council of State Governments West, or CSG West, at its 71st annual meeting in Snowbird, Utah, awarded the Bettye Fahrenkamp Award for Distinguished Legislative Leadership on Behalf of Western States to Utah state Sen. Ralph Okerlund.
As a teacher, farmer and economic development specialist, Okerlund did not seek out a career in public service. Through the relationships he cultivated and his belief in the value of inclusiveness, he was routinely encouraged to take on leadership roles in public service capacities.
After graduating from the University of Utah with a B.S. in Political Science, Okerlund moved to Monroe, Utah, to become a teacher. Soon he was appointed to a vacancy on the Monroe City Council and after serving a few terms in this role, he was appointed to serve as mayor. Concluding his second term as mayor of Monroe, he was elected to the Sevier County Commission where he served for 13 years. During this time, he also held leadership roles with the Utah Association of Counties and the Utah State Association of Commissioners and Councilmen. In 2009, he was elected to the Utah State Senate to represent the residents of district 24, which includes the counties of Beaver, Garfield, Juab, Kane, Millard, Piute, Sanpete, Sevier, Utah and Wayne.
In 2013, Okerlund was elected by his colleagues to the role of majority leader. During his time as majority leader, he has applied an inclusive approach to leadership and has actively worked to ensure that all members are heard. When asked to share his thoughts with new legislators, he offers the following advice, “Often when you’re running a campaign, you promise the world, and you think you’re going to change everything. But just hold back, observe, try to be a good listener. Your time will come.”
Okerlund has been involved with The Council of State Governments at both the regional and national levels since commencing his legislative service. His participation with CSG West includes committee membership on the Executive Committee, as well as the Agriculture and Water Committee. At the national level, he serves as a member of the CSG Governing Board.
The Fahrenkamp Award, which is awarded annually, recognizes leaders whose legislative careers demonstrate the ability to see and work beyond the border of their own states in the interest of the West. The award is named in honor of Bettye Fahrenkamp of Fairbanks, Alaska, who served with distinction in the Alaska State Senate from 1979 until her untimely death in 1991.