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Couple seek to become Utah's first husband-wife legislators

Published April 3, 2012 12:27 pm

Sitting lawmaker and wife are running to serve in Legislature.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Murray • Josie Valdez received a phone call from her state representative saying that her state senator just decided to retire, and he urged Valdez to run for that seat because of her experience and enthusiasm.

Valdez says she quickly accepted that challenge from Rep. Mark Archuleta Wheatley, D-Murray, not only because she admires his insight and skill as a politician — but also because he is her husband.

"We've been married 27 wonderful years," she says. "I'm pretty sure we would be the first husband and wife to serve in the Legislature together" if both can win.

Several wives have followed husbands into the Legislature — including Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, and Rep. Susan Duckworth, D-Magna. Many Utah children have followed parents into politics, such as state Rep. Stewart Barlow, R-Fruit Heights (son of former state Sen. Haven Barlow) and Rep. Jim Nielson, R-Bountiful (son of former congressman and state lawmaker Howard Nielson).

More than a century ago, one wife even beat her husband in a Utah Senate race. Martha Hughes Cannon became the first female state senator in America in 1896 while running with several Democrats as "at large" candidates, and her husband, Angus, was among the Republicans they defeated.

But no husband-wife team appears to have served together in the Legislature.

In short, some couples go to movies together, while others enjoy dining out. "But we're running for office together," Wheatley says. "We're not your typical empty-nesters."

But a decision 27 years ago to keep her maiden name may now cost Valdez the opportunity to benefit mutually from her husband's lawn signs that say "Wheatley."

She explains that decision, saying, "My husband loves strong, independent women. When I told him that, in honor of my family and my [Latina] heritage, I would like to keep my name, he said, 'I don't care as long as you love me and I know you are my wife.' "

Wheatley's father was from England, but his mother was Latina. They divorced when he was young, and he says he was raised in Utah mostly among his Latino relatives — even though his surname is British.

The couple face a steep challenge to become the Legislature's first husband-wife team. Valdez is running against two other Democrats and four Republicans for the seat of retiring Sen. Karen Morgan, D-Cottonwood Heights. Wheatley faces a challenge from two Republicans and a Libertarian as he seeks a fifth House term.

"Josie is the real politician in the family," says Wheatley, a retired administrator for Salt Lake Community College. He says she was always active in Latino community affairs and Democratic politics, but when she was an assistant director locally of the Small Business Administration, federal law would not allow her to run for office.

"Then I caught the bug and ran," he said. Valdez has managed most of his campaigns.

After Valdez retired, she ran unsuccessfully for Salt Lake County assessor and for lieutenant governor in 2008 as the running mate of Democratic gubernatorial nominee Bob Springmeyer — so she has some experience running on her own.

The couple say they have appeared at some political events as candidates together in the part of the Senate district that also includes part of Wheatley's House district, but they are campaigning separately and have different emphases and stands.

"We are similar on most issues," Wheatley says. "But the main reason I am running is to fight for education. It is still my number one issue."

Valdez says she is running to bring more balance to Utah politics. "We need some representation of the minority party. I hope to go out and talk to the people and have them feel confident about sharing things with me, and going up to the Capitol and make a difference — meeting with the opposition and saying this is how this group feels and how can we compromise for a win-win situation."

Both say their family was a little surprised, but is excited and supportive. But helping to keep them humble, Valdez says, is that one young grandson was more excited that running together meant "we would both be in the St. Patrick's Day parade. He was much more excited about us being in a parade than anything else."

ldavidson@sltrib.com