Why you should care
Because Trump won Utah after pundits thought it could go blue.
Sharlene Hawkes wasn’t born in Utah; her father was a Citibank exec and then supervised Latter-day Saints missions throughout various locations in South America. Nonetheless, she found her way back to the Beehive State. Two years after being crowned Miss America in 1985 (representing Utah, of course), she became one of the first female sportscasters to sign with ESPN — work that earned her a Women’s Sports Journalism award and her show an Emmy nomination.
Hawkes went on to found Remember My Service, which specializes in preserving the history of the armed forces (current and past units) through books, documentaries and more, in addition to work with the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services. This past fall, she returned to the Miss America stage as a judge. OZY spoke to her about politics (she calls herself a “moderate conservative”), the Republican Party, gender and more. This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Why did you support Evan McMullin when he ran as an Independent in the 2016 presidential election?
When I wrote the op-ed for Evan, that was right after the third debate, and I was absolutely sure that Trump had lost it. I was so sure. It was also coming on the heels of some new revelations, so I was just so disappointed in his behavior. One of my basic philosophies from all my years in communications, especially in journalism, is to always keep an open mind. When new information comes in, you have to switch. I was absolutely sure we’d lost. I was like, I’ll just write something about it.
But then I could not be more happy to be wrong when Trump won, because it was closer to what my core conservative beliefs are. I think he is going to bring a whole new fresh approach to everything. And I might be crazy for saying this, but I actually really like that he’s a Twitter president because I feel connected. It’s like he has a direct conduit to all of us. It just feels like real-time information. He bypasses the traditional methods for communicating with the public through media editing. Since I have spent years in the media, I’m very familiar with the constraints of media delivery — 90-second features, or limited word count. Because of that, all journalists have to become editors.
Democrats often think they’re the women’s rights party. Is that true?
When I heard some of the things that Hillary had done in the courts and those women that had come forward about the sexual harassment allegations against her husband, I went wow, OK, that does not move women ahead at all. I saw her as advancing her own agenda while deliberately squashing the rights of some women who got in her way. Then you go OK, well, what did Trump say and what are some of the things that he said in the past? From my perspective there’s a slight difference, and it might not be a whole lot. I don’t want to condone anything. But in terms of what I saw with who he selected for his campaign manager — she was the first woman to get a president elected. That’s a really huge deal.
He’s identifying some women that haven’t been identified before. I’m really glad he put Nikki Haley on the international stage. She’s amazing. I think Trump is focused on talent acquisition; I don’t think he leans toward gender “rights” and integration. It’s about how best to meet the objectives of the organization, and it seems to me that he hires based on talent that he believes will further those objectives. That is the kind of thinking that will advance women. The Republican Party is moving in the right direction. I really was not sure a couple of years ago.
Why weren’t you sure about the direction the GOP was headed?
When the tea party came on strong a few years ago, I felt things were swinging too far to the right and I didn’t feel I was adequately represented by the GOP, even though I do still consider myself fiscally conservative and socially moderate. The pendulum had swung pretty far to the right. It seemed that the moderate majority was not being heard. After Mitt Romney’s loss, I do think the GOP was fractured. But I always liked Senator Hatch and Senator Kennedy. They’re examples of politicians who got stuff done.
Nobody back in D.C. really knows how to come together and figure out where the commonalities are. I didn’t know whose fault that was, but I just figured we’ve got to start by looking at ourselves. I’m not sure I recognized this party because we were so far to the right.
Why should women dream big in 2017?
I think we are on the cusp of no longer having to fight for our position as women. What I mean by that is I think we’re very close to gender not even being relevant anymore. It might be 10, 20, 30 years away when we reach a point where it’s not that someone is a female president — she’s just the president. I think that’s when we’ve really made it. Then we’ve stopped having to define these different demographics. We will look past gender, race and religion and only looking at talent as we make decisions in both the public and private sector. In many cases, I believe we are there. But I think society is missing a key factor that can’t be ignored. It’s one that the military is starting to understand better as they look at why talented women choose to transition out of the military even though they are on a great promotional trajectory. Women are more likely than men to have the innate desire to look after their children. As more careers allow for supreme flexibility in leadership career paths, we will see more talented women “climb the ladder.”
A previous version of this article misstated Sharlene Hawkes’ title. It was Miss America, not Miss USA.
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