How a 23-Year-Old from Idaho Became the Youngest Female Mayor in America
Photography: Elissa Kline
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“You’ve got the ranchers versus the conservationists. You’ve got the elk people versus the wolf people,” explains clerk treasurer Rocky James after the meeting. “Sportsmen versus the people that are not sportsmen; you’ve got the snowmobilers versus people that don’t want motorized traffic. It’s all in this area and everybody has a really loud voice because we’re such a small community and we all know one another. It’s really easy to confront someone. It’s like a large family. It takes very strong people to live here but Stauts has become the moderator. She listens to both sides of the story and finds how to get them to meet in the middle. She’s a real mediator.”
Such praise doesn’t fall lightly on Stauts, who has come to recognize her election symbolizes how times have changed for women.
“I’ve never thought of being female as a big deal,” she declares. “I guess I’ve had the fortune of growing up in a generation where it wasn’t as big a deal. That’s one thing my mom is really proud of.” (Her mother is a successful businesswoman and is also the person who taught Stauts the respectful manners necessary to run a meeting.)
“If you just look at the sports I’ve been involved in, or even being a Forest Service firefighter, being a female was never anything that was at the forefront of my mind when I saw things that I wanted to do. And so when I ran and got elected, I had no idea that my age and gender would be such a big deal. But then I found out that I was the youngest female mayor in the United States. I had no idea. I wasn’t expecting that and I didn’t even know that for a couple of months after I was elected.”
She was surprised to hear her name mentioned on the national news. “They reported Stanley as the coldest spot in the nation and then said ‘Well, we hope Mayor Hannah is doing all right and keeping the town running.’ I was pretty shocked to hear that.”
But how does a mayor survive on a $250 a month salary? Besides having been a firefighter, Stauts has worked as a dishwasher, hotel cleaning woman, cashier, and now as a teacher’s assistant as well as bartender and waitress at that same bar where her Stanley mayoral story began.
As far as a future in politics, Miss Mayor is not quite sure. “I don’t know. Initially, when I got into this position, I thought this is a world of possibilities.
Just imagine. I’m 22. My tenure will expire when I’m 26 and then I can run for state legislature and then maybe I can be governor. But now I don’t know. I’m not canceling that out, but I’d also like to go back to school, maybe live in another state in a bigger city and have that experience and then come back. I know that inevitably I want to establish my roots in Idaho. I love the state, I really do. But there are some experiences I want to have outside of politics before I really make the decision to dedicate my life to it.”
Stauts greets her old mentor, James Denhart, as she scurries out of the office to walk the streets of town with a contractor to devise a better snow removal plan. As Denhart works outside, he sums it all up, “She seems to have the spirit of achievement about her and the spirit of America is the spirit of achievement. She saw the challenge and stepped up.”