During the 1980s, the Utah Legislature was dealing with a push by advocacy groups to conduct a “comparable worth” study to determine how much less money female-dominated jobs paid than male-dominated jobs and what could be done about it.
I was covering a legislative committee meeting and heard a single mother and college graduate describe to lawmakers how she struggled on her salary to make ends meet.
The panel chairman, looking bored, then quipped, “Well, why don’t you just get another job?”
Needless to say, the call for such a study went nowhere.
I bring this up after a story in The Salt Lake Tribune last week noted that Utah is tied with Louisiana for having the nation’s largest wage gap — with women earning 70 cents for every dollar made by a man.
There again were calls this year for research to look at the causes of the wage gap in Utah to help identify possible solutions. But Republican lawmakers shut down discussion on a bill that would authorize such a study.
So it has been 30 years of legislative inertia when it comes to dealing with wage discrimination and nothing has changed.
The GOP- and male-dominated Legislature — then and now — has a “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” attitude when it comes to systemic pay bias in the workplace.
I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest the reason there has been little legislative interest in addressing the issue is because of another large gap — the ratio of men to women in the Legislature and other top policymaking positions in the state.
Currently, there are 21 women serving in the 104-member Utah Legislature, a whopping 20 percent. It’s sad when you consider women make up more than 50 percent of the state’s population.
There are 15 women in the 75-member House (20 percent) and six women in the 29-member Senate (about 20 percent).
The real story paints an even bleaker picture.
Of the 15 female House members, only six are Republicans. In the Senate, three of the six women are Republicans.
So women represent just 9 percent of the 62-member House Republican caucus and 12.5 percent of the 24-member Senate GOP caucus.
That’s significant because the Republican caucuses are where the decisions are made and policy is conceived.
The Democrats, who have 70 percent female representation in their House caucus and 60 percent in their Senate one, have virtually no clout in the Legislature.
So the smaller percentages seen in the two GOP caucuses are what counts. And it’s about to get worse.
Of the nine female Republicans in the Legislature, two are retiring — Sen. Margaret Dayton of Orem and Rep. Becky Edwards of North Salt Lake.
Dayton will for sure be replaced by a man, since state Rep. Keith Grover, R-Provo, defeated Emily Ellsworth at the Utah County Convention on Saturday for that seat and no Democrat is running.
Three Republicans are vying for Edwards’ seat: Melissa Garff Ballard (daughter of former House Speaker Bob Garff and daughter-in-law of Mormon apostle M. Russell Ballard), Matt Jensen and Glen Jenkins.
Ingrates • Dave Bateman, CEO of the software company Entrata, is seen as the potential savior of the caucus-convention system of nominating candidates for bankrolling the effort by a conservative Republican faction to sue the state for diluting that system with a signature-gathering alternative.
So how did those conservative delegates repay him?
Bateman ran in the Utah County Convention for an open slot as a state GOP delegate, and he lost to Roger Ellis 56.2 percent to 43.7 percent.
Insult to injury • Phill Wright, another stalwart defender of the caucus-convention system, is challenging incumbent Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, considered a renegade by that purist faction for gathering signatures as well as running in the convention.
So how did the delegates reward fellow patriot Wright? He was bested by Ward at the Davis County Convention 66 percent to 33 percent.
Normally, that would have been enough to eliminate Wright in the convention. But Davis County delegates earlier passed a resolution to punish signature gatherers by requiring them to obtain 70 percent of the delegate vote instead of 60 percent for the purists.
So Wright will be on the primary ballot, after all.