Congressional candidate says ‘practical experience’ lacking in Congress

While she’s never had any political experience, a Park City candidate for Utah’s 1st Congressional District has done just about everything else from military service to coaching high school volleyball.

<a href=””>Donna McAleer</a> will go up against fellow Democratic candidate <a href=””>Ryan Combe</a> on June 26 during the Utah Democratic primary election. If chosen, McAleer will try to unseat the Republican incumbent Rob Bishop – representative of the 1st Congressional District since 2003.

“Now more than ever we need legislators who have a demonstrated history of doing things,” McAleer says. “I’ve had practical experiences doing things, and now I want to use that experience in the legislative process.”

The self-described atypical candidate said she’s never had any political aspirations, but she can’t sit on the sidelines as a spectator any longer.

“Congress maintains an abysmal approval rating, anywhere from 15 to 9 percent. In the last election, 85 percent of incumbents were elected for another term,” she explains. “People with practical leadership are missing – and a diversity of perspective, including a variety of  professions. I believe that’s what I bring.”

McAleer says she represents many things missing or lacking in Congress, including being a veteran, a woman, a mother, and business professional.

According to data from 2011, only 20 percent of the 535 members of Congress had ever served in the military, and that is a problem McAleer says.

“Congress is who sends the military to war, and yet most of them don’t have the practical experience of being in the military to understand how important it is to exhaust other methods before resorting to war,” she explains.

After graduating from West Point, where she was president of her class, McAleer served as an Army officer in Germany at the end of the Cold War.  This experience shaped her to ‘focus on mission.’

“Congress is so wed to partisan politics and ideology that politicians can’t work with each other,” McAleer says. “I think it’s because most of them don’t come from backgrounds that focus on the mission, but rather on getting what’s best for them.”

Wanting to further her education, McAleer left the military in 1991 to attend business school at the University of Virginia from which she earned an MBA. The degree took her to GenRad, a leading producer of electronic test equipment, where she became Vice President of Global Logistics and Support Services.

She also spent time developing a non-profit clinic for people who don’t have health insurance as Executive Director of the People’s Health Clinic in Summit County.

“I’ve had to balance a budget for a business. I’ve been a leader in the corporate sector,” McAleer says. “I’m concerned with mission because that’s what matters. Not background, not where you come from, not orientation, but can you get the job done. I can bring these practical grounded experiences together, which is what our government needs.”

One issue high on the candidate’s list is ensuring the continued success of Hill Air Force Base in Clearfield as it is one of the top three employers in the state, as well as one of three maintenance depots for military aircraft across the country.

“Hill is critical to our economy and our national defense,” McAleer explains. “But the Department of Defense is reducing its budget while the Air Force is extending the life of its aircraft in lieu of acquiring new. Hill has a direct impact on our national security and the Utah economy.”

McAleer says there are 25,000 to 30,000 people who work at the base, and there are many secondary and tertiary businesses that exist from serving or supplying the base. To keep the base viable and operating in Utah, McAleer says Utah needs to emphasize the skills of its workforce.

“We have numerous state colleges and applied schools that are constantly updating and developing new curriculum to ensure that Hill has a pipeline of skilled workers,” she explains. “So legislators need to make sure we are investing resources in these schools so we can keep supplying those workers.”

And looking at the situation even deeper, McAleer believes we need to be building a pipeline in our K-12 schooling system so that Utah’s children can go to these universities.

“Utah ranks 56th in terms of educational funding at the K-12 level. We are below Puerto Rico, D.C., Guam and the Marianas Islands,” McAleer exclaims. “We need to look at different ways to fund our education system.”

Another issue she’d like to address is how technology can be used in K-12 education.

“It’s been estimated that in the next 10 years, two-thirds of Utah jobs are going to come from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) fields, so we need to make sure we are investing that kind of education in our young people.”

As a mother of an elementary school daughter, this is a particularly huge concern because Utah is struggling to educate and graduate girls in STEM fields.

“STEM is where the jobs are going, but by the fifth grade, most young girls are pushed out of these fields. I want to help our schools strengthen those aspects of education so students can identify the skills they need to be competitive in.”

And education isn’t the only thing McAleer is worried about when it comes to young women. A unique item on her resume has made her realize that girls need women role models in leadership. She’s worked as ski instructor and a high school volleyball coach for girls, and the experience made her ask why Utah is ‘bucking’ the trend of women leadership in the political process.

“Utah’s legislature has only 18 women elected to its 104 seat-legislature. Our neighboring state Colorado leads the nation with 41 percent of its 100-seat legislature being women,” McAleer claims. “Utah nationally ranks near the bottom at 43rd. We need to change this because women bring different perspectives and styles of leadership and problem solving to the process.”

Aside from taking on a Red State, McAleer will be taking on a male-dominated system of politics as well. Women hold only 70 of the 435 seats of the U.S. Congress, or about 16 percent, yet women represent 52 percent of the national population.

“There are many reasons women don’t run, like having men tell them they are too busy with families or they simply are not being asked to do it,” she says. “But last time I checked men have families too and women who think there are enough women running because they see Hillary, there are not.”

At the community level in civic and religious groups, McAleer says women overwhelmingly lead.

“So why not put the welfare of our state and nation in the hands of women?” McAleer asks. “I think of all the things that are important in our communities. It may be easier to leave it to someone else, but if you don’t run, if I don’t run, who will?”

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