In her first year as Utah’s youngest lawmaker, 27-year-old Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Herriman, often gets mistaken for an intern by security officers at the State Capitol.
By 8:30 a.m. on the first day of the legislative session last week, Pierucci had already had a close call. But she came prepared, glad to be wearing her Utah House of Representatives pin on the lapel of her blazer.
“I did walk out of the main doors, which only reps are [allowed in] and I saw them give me a look,” she said. “So I kind of just moved my hair so they can see it, but it’s good.”
Pierucci was elected in October after former Rep. John Knotwell stepped down, citing personal reasons. Pierucci, who worked at the Sutherland Institute, a Salt Lake City-based conservative think tank up until the end of the year, said her age brings a helpful perspective to the legislature, but she doesn’t want it to define her. And so far, she says, her colleagues have all been incredibly welcoming.
The new lawmaker agreed to allow a KUER reporter to tag along on her first day on the job when the legislative session began last week.
Pierucci’s days consist largely of meetings, from formal committee hearings to informal breakfasts, like the one she attended in the Capitol Rotunda she attended after that close call with security.
The breakfast was hosted by the homeless services organization The Road Home, and Pierucci didn’t hesitate to ask Road Home Executive Director Michelle Flynn how the state can address homelessness, and what bills the advocate was watching this session.
While this is her first term as a lawmaker, Pierucci has been involved in politics for a long time and she’s used to being the youngest in the room.
After grabbing lunch with Herriman city officials, Pierucci was in her office around 1 p.m., reminiscing about when she interned here 10 years ago as a high school senior for her local representative Carl Wimmer.
“He said … ‘Just don't tell people your age,’” she recalled. “I just said I was a senior, they assumed it was college. So, baby face, right? So, I interned. I fell in love with it.”
She stuck with politics, working as a legislative assistant for Wimmer, interning for U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and joining the Utah Valley University’s College Republicans club.
“Which is how I met my husband -- very romantic,” Pierucci explained. “We were both president of our schools’ College Republicans ... We are party animals. It was spring break, and we ran a campaign training for Leadership Institute for the whole state.
After college, Pierucci went on work for U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, before joining the Sutherland Institute.
Now, Pierucci and her husband, Andy, have a 10-month-old son, Benji. She said she gets a lot of questions about how she juggles it all.
“I seriously doubt my male colleagues get asked the questions I do,” she said. “‘Aren't you a mom? … Where's your baby? Half the time I want to be like, ‘Oh my gosh, I forgot!’”
Pierucci doesn’t want her age or — her son’s — to be a distraction.
“In some meetings … I'll just come out of the gate and say, ‘Hey, I'm 27 — let's chat policy,’” she said.
Pierucci was in office during last month’s special session when the Legislature passed sweeping tax reform. Concerned about an increased grocery tax, she bucked her party by voting with a handful of other Republicans against the bill. Pierucci said that her age informed her decision, because it was not that long ago that she and her husband were fresh out of school, struggling to pay their grocery bill.
“So at $27, I would stop because I knew of the $30 I had for the week … I got to figure out taxes,” she said.
Pierucci said she wants to focus on transportation, infrastructure and veterans affairs. She is running a bill that would require developments in urban counties to get approval from neighboring cities. The idea is to give those cities more of a voice in projects that affect them.
“If we can do this ... cities are being represented in those really big decisions that have long lasting impacts on them,” she said.
Around 4 p.m., Pierucci’s first bill was up for a vote on the House floor. The legislation makes a small technical change to how a state program collects donations. When Pierucci finished introducing the bill, she smiled, bracing for the lawmaker “hazing” she knew was coming next, such as a feigned tough question from Rep. Mike McKell.
“Since 1896, if you could identify every time it was used in Spanish Fork, that’d be great. Thank you,” McKell said, laughing.
“I don’t know if that’s the best use of time,” Pierucci quipped. “I can’t tell you the specifics on Spanish Fork but I’m sure they’ve discussed the Constitution and civil rights as you are here. They must be an educated community.”
The second part of the hazing came when all the representatives voted no on the bill, before changing their votes to a yes. The chamber erupted in laughter and the bill passed unanimously.
“After I commented back to Representative McKell, someone said, ‘Oh, she's going to be just fine’ and so I kind of feel like I earned my stripes,” Pierucci said.
Pierucci is young enough to have a long and influential career in politics. But she said she doesn’t yet know how long she plans to stay in the legislature. For now, she’s just focused on getting the work done.
Sonja Hutson covers politics for KUER. Follow her on Twitter @SonjaHutson