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Crowned with Courage

March 02, 20245 min read

Janene Burton Takes Unlikely Route to Santa Clara City Council, Senior USA Title

When Janene Burton’s flight home from her vacation was delayed by a day, causing her to miss the deadline to get on the ballot for Santa Clara City Council, she took steps—thousands of them—to ensure she’d still get into the race. Despite joining the field as a write-in candidate, Burton garnered the second highest number of votes in November of 2023. It would not be her only crowning achievement.

Burton, a former history teacher, had long been active in Utah politics prior to her move from Sandy, Utah, to Santa Clara. She had served as the state’s Director of U.S. Congressional Term Limits, had logged several years on the state Central Committee, and was president of the Salt Lake City Republican Women’s Club. After her move to Washington County, Burton became increasingly concerned about the amount of high-density housing being proposed by developers and the need to preserve the historic downtown area. Following the 2022 death of her husband, Burton found herself reevaluating her future.

“After Paul passed away, I realized that I now had time on my hands to give back,” Burton recalled. “I saw that being of service to others would be a good way out of my grief. I’d had a lot of experience on both sides of the aisle and knew how things worked at the Capitol. So when a friend suggested that I consider a run for City Council, it made sense.”

There was just one (major) hurdle: a long-planned trip to Europe would give Burton just one day to file her application for candidacy upon her return. She inquired about submitting the paperwork before leaving but was told it was too early to file. Thus, Burton went abroad as planned, praying she’d make it home by the deadline—only to find her return flight delayed more than eight hours.

“The city offices were long closed when I got home,” Burton said ruefully. “I was back in the parking lot at 7:45 a.m. the next morning with my plane tickets and all the correspondence documenting the delay, but it was too late to get my name on the ballot. I was told I could run as a write-in candidate if I wanted.”

Having worked on several campaigns previously, Burton knew that write-ins typically have a one percent chance of winning any election. Still, she agreed to remain in the race. Then she and two friends devised a unique campaign strategy in which Burton, who holds a masters degree in health and physical education, put her commitment to fitness to the test.

Said Burton, “I went to the Washington County offices and bought the biggest map I could find—one that showed every street name. Then I had yard signs made. We placed them everywhere we could, and I started walking the city to connect with every single household.”

Over the next six weeks, walking nearly seven miles daily, Burton, usually strolling alone, knocked on virtually every door in Santa Clara. Her opening gambit—“Hi; I’m the crazy lady on all the signs who’s running for City Council!”—invariably prompted receptive laughter. Once the ice was broken, Burton engaged residents in conversations about her goals as a candidate and asked for their write-in vote. For residents who were not at home, she left door-hangers and personally written Post-It® notes. 

Crowned with Courage: Janene Burton Takes Unlikely Route to Santa Clara City Council, Senior USA Title By Marianne Hamilton

The formula proved highly successful. On Election Day, Burton tallied the second highest number of votes of all candidates, securing her spot on the City Council. “So many people said, ‘Wow, you’re the first candidate who’s ever taken the trouble to connect with me; I’ll vote for you just because you came to my house,’” noted Burton. 

Not only did the guerilla-style campaign strategy secure her political win, Burton says she derived physical benefits as well. The daily walks helped to resolve chronic knee problems and were instrumental in taming the type 1 diabetes Burton had been diagnosed with at the age of fifty. “All of that exercise really helped me keep my health in check,” confirmed Burton. “Now I feel like I can better control my condition.”

Burton was sworn in as a new Council member on January 2, 2024.  But that would not be the end of her winning streak. Four days later, Burton, the former Ms. Senior Utah and Ms. Senior Scotland Universe, was crowned the new Ms. Senior USA during the annual pageant held in Las Vegas by the Senior Pageants Group. Also taking home a new title was fellow Santa Clara resident Shelley Sybil Gish, owner of The Healing Herb in St. George, who was crowned Ms. Senior Sweetheart USA. The two senior queens (who’ve been close friends since Burton moved into Gish’s neighborhood) agree that competing in senior pageantry has been a boon to their personal lives and to Burton’s campaign.

“It’s about so much more than just trying to win a sash and crown,” Gish said. “It’s about going out on a stage, picking up a mic, and pushing myself out of my comfort zone. And having this new title is so meaningful to me. Hopefully it’s a reflection of who I am and my desire to serve others.”

For Burton, the new crown is a close complement to her new City post. “Everyone on Council has a full-time job; this will be mine. City Council will always be my priority, but through my role as Ms. Senior USA, I want to continue my work as an advocate for veterans and for active aging.

“Mostly,” Burton finished, “I want to motivate women to know that when they’re faced with that ‘one percent,’ they can still step into their ninety-nine percent. We’re all crowned with courage.”

For more information about the Ms. Senior Universe/Ms. Senior USA pageants, visit www.msseniorusa.org.

Janene BurtonSanta Clara City Council
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Marianne Hamilton

Marianne L. Hamilton is a veteran journalist and marketing writer whose work appears in regional and national publications. When not race walking or teaching water aerobics, she serves on the board of the Art Around the Corner Foundation. She and her husband, Doug, are also co-administrators of the St. George Wine Club, founders and co-directors of the United States Power Walking Association, and race directors for the Huntsman World Senior Games. Marianne was crowned Ms. Senior Universe 2022-2023 and is executive director of the Senior Pageants Group. A proud breast cancer survivor, she is a member of the Intermountain Healthcare Oncology Patient-Family Advisory Council.

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