Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories about women in Cache Valley.
Rain was coming down in sheets when Karina Brown switched out her thin jacket hood for her wide-brimmed parade hat.
It was late September, Main Street in Logan was filled with decorated cars and floats for the USU Homecoming Parade, and loyal parade-goers were not swayed by the sudden rain showers.
After downing a breakfast sandwich, Brown and her entourage donned sashes supporting votes for women and grabbed handfuls of voting pencils to hand out. Despite the rain, they prepared to march alongside a float celebrating the 100th anniversary of the ratification of 19th Amendment, which granted non-Native American women the right to vote.
Brown had frequented local parades as a candidate for the Utah House of Representatives the year before. Throughout her campaign, Brown and her family marched in a dozen parades wearing bright red shirts that read, “Karina Andelin Brown. Utah House District 5. Your Voice Matters.”
Almost exactly a year after she lost the election, Brown was back at it — in fact, now she is busier than she has ever been. Navigating life after a loss is not unfamiliar territory but Brown doesn’t see it as a step backward.
“The campaign opened so many doors for me,” Brown said. “I have been able to have new experiences and new opportunities to help in different ways. I used to think I had to wait until I had my life under control, when my finances were in order or my bathroom was clean. That is never going to happen, so I will do what I can now.”
Brown said she was around 8 years old and washing the dishes when she decided she wanted to be a mother. Over the years, her childhood dreams switched to fashion designer and model before she finally went to school to become a marriage counselor.
She never imagined “Political Candidate” would be a line on her resume.
Growing up, Brown and her family bounced around the U.S. because of her father’s long list of odd jobs. After her parents divorced, Brown worked to help her mother raise her six other siblings.
Her mother, a Finnish immigrant, has been a guiding example in Brown’s life.
“Her courage in adversity, her commitment to family, her love of education and her optimism for the future are inspiring,” Brown said.
Amidst the strain of poverty, Brown learned from her mother to rely on education to balance things out one day.
After meeting her husband during high school in Arizona and then parting ways for missions for their church, they reunited, married, and continued to move around a bit before establishing Cache Valley as home base to raise their four children.
Brown’s mother died in 2013 and that loss opened, or rather broke down, a new door for Brown to walk through.
“I became concerned about health care and Medicaid expansion because of what my mother faced as a single parent,” Brown said. “I knew that Medicaid expansions could help people like her. I felt like I had to act.”
After writing letters to her representatives, she started attending meetings and connecting with county and state officials. Over time, she found her way to the podium herself.
“I kind of took it on like an experiment. I wondered what could I accomplish being a mom, not working full time, not having a fancy title and not being elected.” Brown said. “I started by trying to re-frame poverty by telling stories about my family. Sometimes people can be living in poverty but they can get an education and they don’t have to stay in poverty.”
Her life as a stay-at-home parent was propelled into new terrain, and a fancy title wasn’t necessary for people to start remembering her name.
Darren Parry, chairman of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation, noticed Brown running around the state capitol building and began following her on social media to figure out what she was involved in, which was just about everything.
“I kept thinking, ‘I hope I get to meet her one day,’” Parry said.
After moving to Cache Valley this past September, Parry showed Brown and her son around the Bear River Massacre site.
They all stood together, looking out over the field and Parry knew that she had a quietness, a reverence that makes people want to listen to her, similar to his own grandmother.
Parry’s grandmother traversed the country standing up for the Shoshone people and others; he said Brown emulates that same mission.
Brown’s husband, Karl, commutes to New York each week for work, meaning that weekends are utilized for family time while the weekdays are filled with her running from meeting to meeting.
While she still keeps up with the health care expansion efforts, Brown also balances a position in her church, where she organizes and teaches hundreds of young women, volunteering her time to help the Cache County Children’s Justice Center and membership on the executive board of the Professional Women’s Roundtable, along with several other positions in the community.
“I’m not superwoman, just ask my kids,” Brown said with a chuckle. “You can be powerful as a regular citizen. I realized that once I put my concern for my community ahead of my nervousness, it really helped me with everything.”
She said she is still surprised every time anybody asks her to take charge of a situation. She still gets nervous, even after the almost daily experience over the past three years.
“I always ask what she has going on because I want to be a part of it,” Parry said. “Whatever Karina Brown is doing, I want to be there, locking arms and supporting her.”
She is able to talk to people of many different backgrounds, which is a talent she said she has gained from moving around as much as she did and the fact that she is a Democrat in a largely Republican state.
Ideological differences don’t keep her from working side-by-side with Republicans in the community.
“She doesn’t wait to be asked,” said Barbara Tidwell, a Cache County Council member and co-chair, with Brown, of the Cache Celebration of Women’s Suffrage 2020. “Karina consistently works across party lines to help others.”
Whether it is passing each other at the Sports Academy during workouts or marching down Main Street together in the pouring rain to support voting rights, Tidwell said that Brown gives it her all and her energy is contagious.
It is that energy that turned the loss of her mother into a chance to advocate for many. That energy turned a lost election into an opportunity to lead in her community. That energy turned a rainy, dreary parade day into an occasion of hope.
“Hey, guess what,” shouted Karl as he ran over to Karina in the middle of the homecoming parade, sporting his own “Votes for Women” sash. “I just handed out a bunch of pencils to some young boys and told them to give one to an important woman in their life and remind them to vote.”
The rain-soaked Karina beamed and gave him another handful of pencils.