As a social worker by day and a Democratic candidate at night, Jenna Rakuita is working hard to become what she feels Utah needs: a representative who fights for students and families living in the 63rd District.
Rakuita is only 25 years old. As a young woman of color, she said she was, at first, nervous about running for a seat in the Utah House of Representatives.
But, while having a conversation with a friend who ran for a local city council, Rakuita realized the House is where she needs to be.
"Everything kept telling me that I didn't belong among the representatives," Rakuita said. "They are all older, white, and have been there for a while... It's intimidating."
She says that's the exact reason why she needs to be at the Capitol Building.
"It's so important to have different people in places of power so that we can better represent Utah and the needs of the people," Rakuita said. "We need someone who understands a wide range of problems... The needs of the 63rd District aren't being magnified at the state level."
Rakuita says the estimated 30,000 university students living in Provo aren't being considered--or thought about--during legislative sessions.
"No one is bringing students to the state level," Rakuita said. She's also hoping that her run for office will encourage millennials and generation Z to engage in local politics.
"If you want to impact your everyday life, get involved in local politics," Rakuita said.
National politics fuel conversation, but local politics change our lives.
If elected, Rakuita says she would address concerns that will directly impact the students and families living in Provo: housing, mental health, education and employment.
"When students do better, families do better," Rakuita said. "I'm a social worker who works with families on a daily basis. I know I'm equipped to work with families and university students, the people of Provo."
Students who attend Brigham Young University are required to live in university-approved housing. Rakuita says this makes it easy for landlords to have a monopoly and take advantage of students.
"It's set up specifically to disadvantage students," Rakuita said.
To help improve the circumstances, Rakuita hopes to propose legislation and policies that would ensure fair treatment for renters, put a cap on security deposits and place more responsibility on landlords to find replacements for tenants who move out.
"When I first started, I had no idea I could be so passionate about housing," Rakuita said.
These policies won't just affect students.
"A lot of families who rent need their rent rights protected," Rakuita said. "It's not just for students, it pertains to families as well."
Running for office in 2020 has opened Rakuita's eyes to another problem worth addressing: students who can't find a job after graduation.
Students are graduating during a recession and are taking whatever job they can get. Lower pay, fewer benefits. That will affect them" for years to come, she said.
Rakuita hopes to bring students into consideration at the state level to help them with unemployment by allowing them to receive benefits. The 25-year-old wants to divert some unemployment funds to include those recent graduates who are "struggling and don't have a job."
"It would give them that buffer time to find a job," Rakuita said.
Rakuita also hopes to improve education by increasing funding, support for students during the pandemic, make online education more accessible, and increase the number of social workers and sociologists in Utah schools.
When asked about funding, Rakuita said she and her team are coming up with plans, but hope to collaborate with other representatives.
"The best solutions are collaborative, through teachers and representatives working across the aisle. Where the funding will come from depends on people being open and willing to have that conversation," she said.
Republican Rep. Adam Robertson, who currently represents the 63rd District and is running for re-election, said,
Every decision and every vote I make is supported by the conservative values of compassion, fairness, and justice and backed by adherence to the constitution I swore to uphold.
"I take an approach that is thoughtful, data-driven, and evidence-based. My door is always open to the numerous voices of the community, and I have successfully bettered state law because of those voices," Robertson said.
Robertson says he has addressed poverty, clean air, and health care during his time in the state House.
"Over my short tenure, the sales tax rate is lower, education funding is higher and economic and education opportunities are pulling people out of poverty and into a better life," he said.
If re-elected, Robertson hopes to continue to address the following issues: reduce protective standards or regulations by "cutting red tape," giving more control to local governments, get more funding for education, eliminate school fees, and tackle transportation infrastructure needs.
Austin Simcox, with the United Utah Party, is also running for the seat in the House.
To learn more about Rakuita's campaign, visit www.jennaforprovo.com
To learn more about Roberton's campaign, visit adamrobertson.vote
To learn more about Austin Simcox's campaign, visit https://www.austinsimcox.com