Aimee Winder Newton: Lessons Learned from 2020 Utah Gubernatorial Race
3rd Female Candidate in Utah History to File and Run for Governor:
I had the opportunity to visit with Aimee Winder Newton about her recent run for governor. As the third woman to ever run for governor in Utah’s history, it was a historic effort. The thing from our conversation that stood out the most was how much she learned about herself through running.
Aimee has been a member of the Salt Lake City Council for the past six years. She is a small business owner and mother of four children.
Politics Runs in the Family
Politics is something important to Aimee’s family. Aimee said “We were always taught to give back and serve in our community. We love people, which is something important if you want to be involved in the political sphere.”
The Cell Phone Tower That Led to the Creation of Taylorsville
Aimee shared a story about how her mom got involved in local government: “ My mom was a stay at home mom for 30 years and one morning she opened her blinds and she looked out. They had a beautiful view of the mountains. She opened her blinds and there was a huge cell phone tower that was impeding her view of the mountains.”
“We were in unincorporated SLC. She went to the community council and asked how it got there. Apparently it hadn’t gone through the proper processes. I think it is the only time in history where a cell phone tower got removed.”
Her mom thought, “Maybe it is better if we become a city. She became the co-chair of the committee to create the city of Taylorsville. I was a spokesperson. That is how Taylorsviille became a city. It was because my mom was mad about a cell phone tower.”
Frustration as a Catalyst for Involvement and Change
Aimee expressed how often our frustration is what pushes us to get involved. “When you feel frustrated. You get involved and find ways you can make a difference and make a change. That is true in public service. I love the ability to help make people’s lives better. We can find ways to improve our communities.”
I have also noticed this in my life. My late wife, Becky and I discovered something early in our marriage that really got our family engaged in politics. We got involved in a neighborhood issue and affected change.
Just knowing that one person can make a difference in government decisions is such a powerful powerful notion and knowledge. If you don’t like what is going on, you can get involved and make a difference.
Why Run for Governor?
Aimme shared, “About a year and a half ago I had people approach me. I laughed it off. They said, “We think you’d be good. We need your voice in the race.’ If you look at the field the only person who had local government experience was Spencer Cox. I agreed that I would think about it.”
Men vs. Women and the Choice to Run
Aimee shared an insight about women in politics: “One of the problems with female candidates is that women are less likely to jump into things and totally do this. A Harvard study showed that this is the case. Even in applying for jobs, this is true. If a woman sees a job description, they will not apply unless they meet 80-90% of the criteria and men will see that they meet 50% of the criteria and apply.”
Aimee experienced similar reservations for running but in the end her desire to influence change helped her decide to run.
Aimee said, ” I was thinking,’ I don’t know if this is my thing.’ After thinking it through and talking to a lot of people, I decided to do this. I feel like we need a long term vision for the state. I was passionate about education and jobs for people, especially those in poverty.”
Family Concerns and Making it Work
A big concern for Aimee in making the decision to run was the impact it would have on her family. With children still in high school, she wanted to make sure she was available for her family.
Aimee said, “I decided to run. My underlying concern was my family. I thought I just don’t want to be gone. I love the flexibility that I have right now with my current position in city council. My husband was in a job where he travels a lot.”
Making the choice was a leap for faith for Aimee. She wasn’t sure how it would all work out but she made the choice: “I had this experience. I had this moment when I knew I was supposed to run. I came home and I was tearful and my husband asked what was wrong. I told him that I knew I was supposed to run. He said, ‘We will figure it out.’”
“What was interesting was that within a week, his boss told him that they had a new job they wanted him to take. It would be half as much travel and he would have to work from home. It was an affirmation that it was going to be ok.”
The Only Woman In the Race and Inspiring Other Women
Overall the race was a great experience for Aimee. She appreciates the opportunity to inspire other women and girls to consider politics.
“I’m so grateful that I had the chance to run. Even when it was hard, I kept telling myself I may be the only woman in this race. I think there is a benefit in having diverse voices. When I thought about the young girls in the state of Utah that needed to see a female run for governor, that is what kept me going. It was really and truly an honor.”
Running a Great Race on a Small Budget
One thing impressive about Aimee’s campaign was her ability to run and place high in the results with such a small budget.
Aimee shared, “To be truthful, I had raised and spent $150,000 on this race, whereas my opponents spent between $800k and $2 million. The ones that I beat in convention spent far more than me. I truly didn’t have the money to compete in the primary.”
When the votes starting to be tabulated, she got concerned because it looked like she might actually win.
“When I saw the results start to roll in I started wondering ‘What if we win?’”
“I wondered what I would do if I did win because I honestly only have $1,000 left. You never want to lose with money in the bank. We were very strategic about how we used money.”
Being Out of the Race
The race was stressful but Aimee misses it. “That is what hurts the most. When I watch them get ready for the debates. I just want to be there. It makes me sad to not be in the race. You win some, you lose. I’ve won 3 times in my current seat. This was my first loss.”
Growth in Confidence
Running was a big commitment and took a lot of time but it led to a lot of personal growth and confidence.
Aimee said, “I learned a lot about myself. One of the most awesome things about running was that my confidence level increased so much. By the end, I knew that I was the best candidate. I knew I had the chops to do it. My confidence increased and my ability to show up to an event and speak. The personal growth was just incredible.”
Choosing John Dougall as a Running Mate
John Dougal was Aimee’s top pick for a running mate. However, his current position as state auditor makes it difficult because if he ran on the governor ticket, he would have to withdraw from the auditor race.
Aimee shares, “It was the week of filing that we were chatting. He had already filed for auditor. I said, ‘John I need your help. Your depth of knowledge and experience. I have the local government experience. I have over 20 years in city and county government. You bring the state experience. We would be such a great team.'”
Things started to change though with COVID19 and the potential impact on the economy.
Aimee shared, “When the coronavirus began to unfold, he realized we would need people who know about money. If we would have run, he would have withdrawn from the auditor position. “
During their campaigning, Aimee got to know John better. She said, “I couldn’t have asked for a better running mate. John was so gracious and helpful. He jumped right in.”
Best Memories: Getting to Know the People
One of Aimee’s best memories was getting to know the people of Utah
When she decided to run, she made a goal to hit all 29 counties before she announced that she was going to run. So in the spring and summer of 2019 she traveled the state visiting with people along the way.
She stated, “One of the most fun things was the experiences we had that were not planned. We were in a Burger King and a couple were eating lunch. I am brave with random situations. I asked, ‘Can I talk to you for a minute? I’m running for governor. and I want to learn more about Duchesne.’ I just heard their story.”
The woman at the Burger King was a schoolteacher in rural Utah. Her husband shared, “I watch my wife make books for the kids because there wasn’t enough money for books for the kids.”
Aimee said, “I had so many experiences like that. I’d be at a library and hear an experience about a single mom whose husband passed away and raising these children. The things that made them happy. I have such fond memories of those experiences. I got to talk to rural people.”
“Everyone has a story. Everybody. When you listen to their story. Everybody’s journeys is different.”
Biggest Difficulty: Finding Campaign Professionals
One of the biggest struggles of her campaign was the lack of campaigning professionals such as campaign managers. Aimee said, “We have a huge void here that needs to be filled. One of the most difficult things was getting an experienced campaign manager.”
While Aimee wasn’t able to find an official campaign manager, she put together a great team to support her: “I had an awesome kitchen cabinet with seasoned professionals. We were able to do a great job on branding.”
Without a formal campaign manager, Aimee had to do a lot of the legwork. She said, “I was the one thinking every day, we need to do this, we need to do that. We had this hybrid of staff along with some of my advisors from my kitchen cabinet that would check in once a week. We ended up hiring the most incredible people. They didn’t have campaign experience but they were super smart. We had this team of incredible people.”
Gender’s Role in the Race
One of the challenges in running for governor was being the only female candidate.
Aimee said, “I had a lot of supportive comments. I did have some comments from time to time from people about how a woman should cook and clean. We did a tv ad that talked on that and focused on that.”
The worst comment was an online one on the day she announced her candidacy, “I was scrolling and at the bottom was the comment, ‘You are the worst candidate ever. You only have to provide the bar for other candidates to trip over.’ I have pretty thick skin so things like that don’t bother me.”
Aimee was very clear that she didn’t want to blame losing the race on her gender: She said, “I want to be very careful to never really blame those challenges on the gender factor. We have women who want to blame everything on it being sexist. I don’t believe that. At the core, people want to be fair. They do want to see women run. I can’t tell you how many people thanked me for running.”
Need for More Women Voices
Often women won’t get involved in politics. Aimee said, “I was so grateful that in Utah we have women who will run for the top office. More women don’t get involved, partially because it is a mean industry. There is a lot of negativity. People make comments that are hurtful. We are protective of our families. It is hard to expose our kids to that kind of stuff. Luckily being in office before, I have pretty thick skin. That kind of stuff was ok.”
Aimee had words of advice for women considering getting involved in politics, “If only they could see what their voice can do. We need to help women understand that their voices are so powerful. We underestimate that. We need those different voices.”
When Aimee was first elected to the county council, she was the only woman of the 9 members. She said, “ I can tell you that women ask different questions and think about things differently. You need both men and women at the table. Harvard Studies showed that the strongest outcomes come when you have both genders at the table. You shouldn’t vote on gender but most qualified women should win. I don’t know what holds us back.”
Another difficult thing is fundraising. A lot of the male candidates had connections that she did not. Aimee said, ” I did have a lot of men say I serve on the high council with this guy’s dad. I go golfing with this guy. I am not in the good old boys club.”
When Aimee decided to run for governor, her husband was surprised by the reaction. He said, “I didn’t know that we dealt with sexism in our state until I saw it when you ran for governor.”
The election really made the biases come to light. She said, “It is like this race discussion. We have these hidden biases that I don’t think we recognize sometimes. When we shine the light upon it, it takes someone running for people to realize it. I don’t think we understand them really well until we are confronted with them.”
Aimee shared her experience with her first Facebook live event as a candidate. She wanted to be approachable and authentic. She said, “I didn’t wear a suit jacket. I wore a sweater. I was dressed more casually. One of my staffers showed it to her friends. And they said, “You do not look executive.” For future zoom meetings, I always had on a suit jacket. You know if you would wear your hair in ponytail and not wear makeup, you wouldn’t be seen as professional.”
Almost any choice she made felt like there was someone who took issue with it, Aimee said, “I can’t win. One person has an opinion. One person said you should let your hair go gray. You shouldn’t wear a skirt. I don’t know. You are right nobody comments on how men dress. As a female candidate, I had comments all the time about my appearance.”
An example of the focus on her looks was when she did an event for Channel 2 with Brian Mullahy. Aimee shared how Brian was talking with her and then said, “Let’s go to some of our comments.” And he starts reading through the comments and he saw something about my blond hair. How I look. Finally he just kind of skipped these. You could tell he was even flustered. What do I do about this? These people are just commenting on her appearance, not anything she said. We’re constantly dealing with this.. The more people see females running for these kind of offices, the more it will work itself out.
As women stand up and do these things whether it is run for office or speak out. It is a great example for the coming generation. Becky had parents who would bring their daughters all the time to see her. They wanted to take pictures of the first woman speaker of the house. She finally came to the conclusion that there is something very powerful about being able to see someone do something.
Politics as a Way to Learn About Yourself
I think the things that impacted me the most was how much she learned about herself. She went into the race not knowing for sure if she was the best person to be governor of the state. By the time she was done with the experience, she was positive that she was. She had stood up with other candidates and exchanged ideas and policy, what she wanted to do, and what her vision was for the state. She knew that she had a great vision and she knew that she could do the job. You learn so much about yourself when you learn for public office. We should all be involved. There is great power in being involved in government.
We have learned that it is important to trailblaze. To go where others haven’t gone before. So that they can see you. In Aimee’s case as the third woman in the history of Utah to run for governor. That trailblazing will pave the way for a woman to be one day by the governor of Utah. It is important to make a difference.