Utah Lt. Gov. Candidate Michelle G. Kaufusi
Utah GOP Lt. Governor Candidate Michelle G. Kaufusi, Mayor Provo, Utah (And mother to two New York Jets.) Is partnered with Candidate for GOP Utah Governor Jon M. Huntsman, Jr., former Governor of Utah, and United States ambassador to China and Russia
As interviewed by Clark H. Caras, Candidates.vote
Raised at the top of the city’s Center Street in Provo, Utah with six siblings by a single mother who was a nurse working graveyard at the city’s hospital, and going to work yourself at age 12; well, the expression used by Mayor Michelle Kaufusi, rings so very true – “Provo raised me!”
Caras – “You are saying a city of more than 100,000 people, home to Brigham Young University, and the center of a metro area of about 500,000 people living in Utah Valley “’Raised you.”’?
Mayor Kaufusi – “We weren’t your normal Provo family, what with the university our neighbors were professors and well, we were the ‘free lunch’ kids; but we didn’t want to be different or treated differently. The people in Provo treated us so well and embraced our family. I had such wonderful teachers who loved and cared about not making me feel any different from classmates.”
Caras – “So you’re the youngest in a family of four girls and three boys. Where did your single mom work as a nurse in Provo?”
Mayor Kaufusi – “She was at Utah Valley Hospital in the newborn nursery and worked full time on the graveyard shift… from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. At age 12, I jumped in trying to help out. I’d get home from school and clean houses and on the weekends as well. At that age, $5 has a feeling of being about as rich as you can be.”
Caras – “Mayor Kaufusi; when did you fall in love with Provo?”
Mayor Kaufusi (With a quiet chuckle and then in an almost lyrical voice, she gives her answer.) – “When did I fall in love with Provo? It was on Saturdays when we’d gather up as much change as we could and go to Provo Bakery and buy donuts. Then we’d run barefoot through the neighborhood and downtown kicking up the water in the irrigation ditches as we went.
It was the sidewalk sale during the Fourth of July and Freedom Festival, and going to the Back to School sale at JC Penney riding my new bicycle with the banana seat. And it was when the street lights came on as the signal it was time for us to go home.”
Caras – “When you were just a bit older than 12 years I heard tell you worked at one of Provo’s most famous landmarks?”
Mayor Kaufusi – “It was when I was 16 years old and started working at Farmer in the Deli from 4 to 9 p.m. I’d close every night. When school was over I’d walk from Provo High School to the deli downtown and then at close my mom would pick me up and take me home. By then she was working days at the Central Utah Clinic across the street for Utah Valley.”
Caras – “You’re the first woman in the 175 year history of Provo to have been sworn in as mayor. I’m told though this would not be the first time you made history in Provo as the first woman to hold office?”
Mayor Kaufusi – “It’s true. At Provo High School I was elected as the first female student-body president.
It’s not about being a woman and running or being elected because of being a woman. Granted, I loved being out there campaigning, just like I do now with Governor Huntsman, and telling young women, young girls and all women to embrace politics and jump in. It’s about the ideas you can bring to the table that count and the changes you can make by sharing your ideas that are maybe new ideas.”
Caras – “Before you joined Jon Huntsman in this run for Governor and Lt. Governor had you ever met him?”
Mayor Kaufusi (With a somewhat startled laugh, she replies) – “Heavens no! I’d heard him speak when he was governor and had been to the Huntsman Cancer Institute several times; but no, it wasn’t until one day as I was sitting at my desk at the city and had my head down and buried in papers, I heard his voice at my office door and there he was smiling and asking if he could come in.”
Caras – “Was it in that first meeting that he asked you to join his team?”
Mayor Kaufusi – “No, not at all; we spent our time visiting and getting to know one another. I remember, he said to me, “’Tell me about yourself and how it is you landed here?’” It wasn’t in that first meeting he did what I joke now with him his invitation turned my world upside down.”
Caras – “So when did the “ask” come from Governor Huntsman?”
Mayor Kaufusi – “It was when my secretary said he was on the phone asking for me. When I answered Governor Huntsman said, “’You will be Utah’s next Lt. Governor.”’ I had to catch my breath and then I asked him if I could take some time to think about it? Not in a million years did I have any political aspirations. All I really had ever wanted to do was make just a little difference in the world. He told me to take as much time as I needed.”’
Caras – “So how much time did it take before you let Governor Huntsman know?”
Mayor Kaufusi – “Well, I was walking into my office after a Provo City Council meeting thinking about how much I love my city, but also the community and state that city is part of. It was as if the burden of making such a decision was lifted and with butterflies in my stomach I called Governor Huntsman and let him know I was accepting the incredible invitation he’d extended. And when I’d said yes I knew it was the right decision; I did say to myself, ‘Please Lord make sure I am ready to go.’”
Caras – “Kaufusi is a pretty well known name in Provo and not necessarily for the mayor’s office. How’s your husband Steve, the former NFL lineman and the five athletes you two raised, deal with Mayor Mom Kaufusi and now the campaigning and you possibly becoming Lt. Governor Kaufusi, wife of former NFL defensive lineman for the Philidelphia Eagles, two sons who are New York Jets, another who will be with the University of Utah football team beginning this year, and daughter who was a standout with the BYU women’s basketball team?”
Mayor Kaufusi – “Steve’s great! A wonderful big teddy bear who still definitely wondering what his title is… Provo’s First Man! He and the kids have been great through all of this, but it’s hard for them to hear some of the negative chatter about ‘mom’.” (Mayor Kaufusi’s sons, Bronson and Corbin are both with the New York Jets. The Kaufusi’s son, Devon, who was a standout with BYU’s football team, recently announced his transfer to the University of Utah to play football with his best friend Britain Covey.)
Caras – “How’d you meet one of BYU’s great lineman and go on to marry him.”
Mayor Kaufusi (With a bit of a chuckle) — “How did we meet? It was in Anaheim where we both were fothe football game. Him to play in it and me as a Cougarette. My mom had strict rules that none of us got married until our senior year in college. So we dated and in our senior year got married.
Her rule stemmed from her life’s example and she knew man or woman, we needed an education to fall back upon. Steve was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles and I graduated in Global Studies and we started our family in Philadelphia; always knowing we’d return to Provo.”
Steve was born in the Kingdom of Tonga and at age eight came to Utah with his family where his father worked for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Mayor Kaufusi – “We went back to Tonga six years ago and it was a tremendous experience. I was able to go into the schools while I was there and share some things we’d had success with in Provo School District (Mayor Kaufusi served on the Provo School District School Board). I was very lucky to have had that privilege of being welcomed into the schools and most especially to share ideas back and forth.”
Caras – “You mentioned a love of reading. What was the last book you read and what are you reading now?”
Mayor Kaufusi – “I’m an avid book reader. I keep a book in my car, one on my desk at work, and I think right now I’ve eight books stacked on my nightstand. I have this brain that doesn’t stop and reading seems to be the only way I can slow, or shut, it down.
I’m reading Greg McKeown’s, “Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.” Another right now is, “Lincoln’s Melancholy,” by Joshua Wolf Shenk. And one I’m enjoying reading right now is, “Founding of Fort Utah.”
Caras – “As Utah’s Lt. Governor you’ll be as they say, ‘One heartbeat away from serving as Governor.’ Thinking about it how does that make you feel about what Governor Huntsman has asked you to be a part of?”
Mayor Kaufusi – “Since telling him I’d join the team I honestly have to say we’ve been so busy campaigning and me doing what I was elected to do as mayor of Provo that thought hasn’t crossed my mind. So, I guess what I’d say to that is if that were to happen… which hopefully it would not; I’m glad to know I’d need to be a really fast learner.”
For more information about both Kaufusi and Huntsman go to www.huntsman2020.com