As the first African-American Republican woman in Congress, Mia Love brought a unique personal history and diverse résumé to the House. Love, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, was born in New York, studied theater in Connecticut, converted to the Church of Latter Day Saints, moved to Utah, and was a staunch proponent of small government. But Love’s career in politics, long before she served in the House, revolved around policy more than her individual story. “I wasn’t elected in Saratoga Springs because of my race or my gender or my heels,” she said in 2013 about her time as mayor. “I was elected by the people there because I had a plan and a vision to get us financially stable.”1
Mia Love was born Ludmya Bourdeau on December 6, 1975, in Brooklyn, New York. Her parents, Jean Maxime and Marie Bourdeau, had fled the hostile regime of Haitian dictator François “Papa Doc” Duvalier in late 1974. Bourdeau’s parents did not bring their older children to America, but after Mia was born, the family applied for citizenship and brought her two siblings over from Haiti.2 The Bourdeaus moved to Norwalk, Connecticut, in 1981, where her mother worked as a nurse and her father took on several jobs to make ends meet. Later on during her political career Love recounted her father’s words, “Mia, your mother and I never took a handout. You will not be a burden to society. You will give back.”3
Bourdeau fell in love with the theater while attending Norwalk High School, where she graduated in 1993. She went to the University of Hartford in West Hartford, Connecticut, for its fine arts program and graduated with a bachelor of fine arts in 1997. While in college, she met her future husband Jason Love, a software engineer then on a Mormon mission. Mia Love converted from Catholicism to Mormonism, and moved to Utah in 1998. The couple has three children: Alessa, Abigail, and Peyton.
Love worked as a flight attendant and call center operator after college, leaving behind her acting plans when she turned down a part in a performance that had been offered the week of her marriage. It was not long before she jumped into public service. Love’s first involvement came at the community level when she led an effort to pressure a local developer to treat their lakefront properties in Saratoga Springs south of Salt Lake City for a midge fly infestation. Shortly afterward, in 2003, Love ran for and won a seat on the Saratoga Springs city council. In November 2009, she was elected mayor of Saratoga Springs taking 59 percent of the vote and becoming the first African-American woman elected mayor in the state of Utah.4 Love served as mayor during the crippling economic downturn known as the Great Recession, and early in her tenure she overcame a budget shortage of $3.5 million and managed to keep the municipal government solvent.5
In late 2011, Love announced her intention to challenge six-term incumbent House Democrat Jim Matheson in the suburban congressional district that stretched south of Salt Lake City. The district, which had been redrawn following the 2010 Census and had begun to lean more Republican, was home to a burgeoning tech sector, including several medical technology firms and a new data center for the National Security Agency. After easily winning her primary, Love was offered a high-profile speaking slot at the 2012 Republican National Convention where Mitt Romney accepted the party’s nomination for President. Love’s campaign received considerable national attention, but she ultimately fell short of unseating Matheson by a mere 768 votes; Libertarian candidate Jim Vein pulled in 6,439 votes that year.6
Undaunted, Love announced in June 2013 that she would seek a rematch with Matheson. “I’m better prepared, I’m a better candidate. Having gone through this, I understand the issues so much better, how campaigns work.”7 In December, Matheson announced his retirement from Congress, and Democrats nominated Doug Owens, son of former Utah Representative Douglas Wayne Owens. Love downplayed the historic nature of her candidacy and instead focused her campaign’s message on her family’s story and her conservative record as mayor. She opposed the medical device tax, an area of concern for tech companies in her district, and often spoke about the importance of decision-making on the local, rather than the federal, level. Love won the election with 50.1 percent to Owens’ 45.8 percent. During an interview the day after the election, Love said that neither her race nor her gender were the central issues in the campaign. “Principles had everything to do with it.”8 Love defeated Doug Owens again in the 2016 election and improved on her 2014 vote totals, garnering 53.7 percent of the vote.
During her two terms in the House, Love was assigned a seat on the exclusive House Financial Services Committee (this meant that party rules prevented her from serving on any other standing committees simultaneously).9 In the 114th Congress (2015–2017), she sat on the Subcommittee on Terrorism and Illicit Finance, and in the 115th Congress (2017–2019) she moved to the Subcommittee on Monetary Policy and Trade and the Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit. From her position on Financial Services, she pushed a bill which raised the lending limit for small banks; the proposal passed as part of a broader Senate bill which removed certain financial regulations. Love also served on the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives under the auspices of the Committee on Energy and Commerce.10
During her two campaigns for the House, Love had been highly critical of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), accusing its members of “demagoguery” and insisting in 2012 she would “take that thing apart from the inside out.”11 But her rhetoric softened after she joined the caucus. She was the only black Republican in the CBC during her House service, and regularly attended caucus meetings, including sit downs with Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump. In 2018, she voiced a feeling of camaraderie with the other caucus members, insisting that “if my leadership asked me to go after a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, I won’t do it.”12
Despite the considerable attention her candidacy had attracted, Love maintained a low profile during her first several months in office. During a period when much of Congress’s work revolved around large legislative packages and short-term government funding deals, Love introduced few individual measures during her House career and instead lobbied leadership to include her proposals in the broader bills which Congress regularly considered. In particular, she joined Democrats in pushing bipartisan legislation to reform how Congress handled sexual harassment, which was signed into law just before the end of the 115th Congress. Love inserted a provision ensuring taxpayers would no longer be liable for settlements paid by congressional offices.13
Love supported the Republican Party’s major legislative initiatives during her time in the House: she voted for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, she voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and she backed the passage of the GOP’s replacement legislation, the Affordable Health Care Act of 2017, which passed the House but failed in the Senate. Love fought to delay the implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s medical device tax by two years, which, she said, would affect several medical technology companies in her district. That proposal ultimately passed as part of the funding deal following a brief government shutdown in January 2018.14
Love also drew national attention for her work on behalf of Utah resident Josh Holt, a former Mormon missionary who had been imprisoned in Venezuela on suspicion of weapons charges. In September 2016, Love cosponsored a House Resolution expressing concern about the “ongoing political, economic, social and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela” and urged the release of political prisoners, including Holt. Joining Utah Senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, Love pressed the Trump administration to secure Holt’s release.15 Love spoke with Holt’s family frequently, and lobbied the White House for his freedom until Holt was released on May 26, 2018.16
During the 2018 midterm elections, she faced a new Democratic opponent in Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams. Following a close election and a prolonged count of mail-in ballots, Love conceded the election on November 26, 2018.17
1Winston Ross, “Mia Love Tries to Be the First Black Republican Woman in Congress,” 29 October 2014, Newsweek, http://www.newsweek.com/2014/11/07/utah-love-280643.html (accessed 17 January 2019).
2Matt Carnahan, “Becoming American: The Story of Mia Love’s Haitian Parents,” 13 November 2014, Salt Lake Tribune: n.p.; Stuart Anderson, “Mia Love May Be Right About Her Family’s Immigration History,” 28 September 2012, Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/stuartanderson/2012/09/28/mia-love-may-be-right-about-her-familys-immigration-history/#66b25160131d (accessed 23 January 2019); Ross, “Mia Love Tries to Be the First Black Republican Woman in Congress.”
3Krissah Thompson, “From Utah, with an Eye Toward History,” 26 June 2012, Washington Post: A1; Carnahan, “Becoming American: The Story of Mia Love’s Haitian Parents.”
4Donald W. Meyers, “1st Black Woman Takes Mayor’s Office in Utah,” 8 January 2010, Salt Lake Tribune: n.p.; Lee Benson, “King’s Dream Certainly Thrives Along The Shores of Utah Lake,” 16 January 2011, Deseret Morning News (Salt Lake City): n.p.
5Matt Canham, “Mia Love: Searching for Stardom; a Mormon Conversion,” 21 November 2014, Salt Lake Tribune: n.p.; Matt Canham, “Mia Love Discovers Love and Politics in Utah,” 1 December 2014, Salt Lake Tribune: n.p.; Ross, “Mia Love Tries to Be the First Black Republican Woman in Congress”; Robert Gehrke, “Love Launches Congressional Bid as Budget Hawk,” 5 January 2012, Salt Lake Tribune: n.p.
6Dennis Romboy, “Mia Love Making A Run in Utah’s New 4th Congressional District,” 22 December 2011, Deseret Morning News (Salt Lake City): n.p.; Almanac of American Politics, 2016 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015): 1853; Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present,” http://history.house.gov/Institution/Election-Statistics/Election-Statistics/.
7Priya Anand, “Love to Take Another Run at Matheson,” 13 June 2013, Politico, https://www.politico.com/story/2013/06/mia-love-to-take-another-crack-at-unseating-jim-matheson-092668 (accessed 11 January 2019).
8Matt Canham, “Love, Owens Offering a Stark Choice,” 30 October 2014, Salt Lake Tribune: n.p; Anne Knox, “Mia Love: Utahns Care Little About Race,” 10 November 2014, Salt Lake Tribune: n.p.; Paul Rolly, “Rolly: Mia Love Gets Off to a Rocky Start With the Media,” 10 November 2014, Salt Lake Tribune: n.p.; Almanac of American Politics, 2016: 1852–1854.
9Judy Schneider, “House Committees: Categories and Rules for Committee Assignments,” Report 98–151, 17 October 2014, Congressional Research Service: 2.
10The committee was alternately titled the Select Investigative Panel on Planned Parenthood by Republican Members. See also “Committees and Caucuses,” accessed 20 December 2018, https://love.house.gov/committees-caucuses/ (site discontinued) “Accomplishments,” accessed 8 November 2018, https://love4utah.com/accomplishments/ (site discontinued); Almanac of American Politics, 2016: 1853; H.R. 3791, 114th Cong. (2016); H.R. 4771, 115th Cong. (2018); S. 2155, 115th Cong. (2018).
11Dennis Romboy, “Love Would ‘Take Apart’ Congressional Black Caucus if Elected in Utah’s 4th District,” 5 January 2012, Deseret News: n.p.
12Nia-Malika Henderson, “Mia Love Joins a Group She Promised to Dismantle,” 6 January 2015, Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/01/06/mia-love-joins-the-cbc-the-group-she-vowed-to-dismantle/ (accessed 14 January 2019); Darren Sands, “Black Democratic Lawmakers Want To Beat Every Republican—Except One,” 29 September 2018, BuzzFeed News, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/darrensands/mia-love-congressional-black-caucus-midterm-elections (accessed 18 January 2019).
13S. 3749, 115th Cong. (2018); Congressional Record, House, 115th Cong., 2nd sess. (6 February 2018): H808.
14“Accomplishments,” accessed 8 November 2018, https://love4utah.com/accomplishments/ (site discontinued); H.R. 1, 115th Cong. (2018); H.R. 1628, 115th Cong. (2017); H.R. 195, 115th Cong. (2018).
15Courtney Tanner, “ ‘I’m On My Knees Begging You to Help Us’ Says Mother of Utah Man Jailed in Venezuela,” 30 July 2016, Salt Lake Tribune: n.p.; “Love, Hatch Urge Utah Man’s Release from Venezuela Jail,” 1 September 2016, Associated Press, n.p.; H.Res. 851, 114th Cong. (2016).
16Thomas Burr, “’You Have Gone Through a Lot,’ Trump Celebrates Utahn Josh Holt, Freed from a Venezuelan Prison After Two Years,” 27 May 2018, Salt Lake Tribune: n.p.
17“Utah Election Preliminary Results,” Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office, accessed 15 January 2019, https://electionresults.utah.gov/elections/uscongress/4; John Wagner, “Mia Love Gives Trump No Love as She Concedes a Narrow Loss in Utah,” 26 November 2018, Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/mia-love-gives-trump-no-love-as-she-concedes-a-narrow-loss-in-utah/2018/11/26/2062c158-f1a5-11e8-80d0-f7e1948d55f4_story.html (accessed 30 January 2019).