Powerful Philo Farnsworth fan creates static for Martha Hughes Cannon statue

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Statue of Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon at the Utah State Capitol. SJR1, a concurrent resolution initiating the replacement of the state's statue of Philo Farnsworth in the United States Capitol with a statue of Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon, passes out of the Senate and heads to the House, following discussion in the Senate Chamber in the State Capitol in Salt Lake City Monday January 29, 2018.

The drive to place a Utah statue in the U.S. Capitol to honor Martha Hughes Cannon — the nation’s first woman senator — ran into major static Monday from a powerful fan of TV inventor Philo T. Farnsworth, whose statue Cannon’s would replace.

That fan happens to be powerful House Rules Committee Chairman Mike Noel, R-Kanab.

He blocked a request Monday to assign SCR1 to a committee for a hearing. So the resolution calling for the statue replacement remains bottled up in the Rules Committee for now.

Noel, however, said he figures it will come out eventually — but says he wants to buy some time for other Philo fans to make their case.

“I think Philo’s a pretty amazing guy,” Noel said. “I think everyone needs some time to find out what Philo did. I find that people I talk to don’t know anything about Philo Farnsworth.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) A small replica of the statue of American inventor and television pioneer Philo T. Farnsworth has come to the forefront once again for Draper residents Treva and Bruce Barnson. Bruce, the former principal of Ridgecrest Elementary who lobbied the Legislature back in the late 80s to bring the larger than life statue to Statuary Hall in Washington D.C., is making the argument to keep it where it is after hearing the news that Sen. Todd Weiler has introduced a bill for January's legislative session to replace Farnsworth's statue with Martha Hughes Cannon, the first woman state senator.

Farnsworth invented not only the television, Noel notes, but contributed to the development of the baby incubator, radar, infrared night vision device and the electron microscope.

“He invented some things that affected all of us in the world,” Noel said. “He’s an internationally recognized person. I’m not saying that to demean Martha Cannon, but that’s kind of what’s happening to my buddy Philo.”

Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab looks pleadingly to Speaker of the House Greg Hughes to speed up regular proceedings Monday Jan. 30 before running out of time in the morning session for introducing HCR 11 and HCR 12 concurrent resolutions urging President Trump to Rescind Bears Ears National Monument and shrink the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

Supporters of Cannon are pushing for her because she fought for women’s suffrage — and her statue could be placed in the Capitol on the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment in 2020. She was the nation’s first female state senator, a doctor, and a Democrat who defeated her polygamist Republican husband.

Over the weekend, members of modern polygamist groups talked about how they are cheering for Cannon — whose life showed that a polygamist wife could be strong and independent.

Noel was the sponsor of a bill last year aimed at keeping polygamy a felony in Utah and earned the enmity of that community for comparing it to organized crime.

The Senate passed SCR1 last week on a 21-7 vote while Cannon supporters wore yellow roses. As a sign that it would likely also pass the House easily, most House leaders also sported yellow roses that day. Noel was not one of them.

“I have nothing against Martha Hughes Cannon. I really don’t. I love Philo. He’s one of my heroes,” Noel said, and hopes to preserve his statue as one of two that Utah may place in the Capitol. Utah’s other statue is of Mormon pioneer Brigham Young.

The collection of state statues in the U.S. Capitol include nine other women, and three other inventors.

The women in the collection are: Helen Keller, first deaf-blind person to earn a college degree, from Alabama; Mother Joseph, a humanitarian missionary from Washington; Esther Hobart Morris, a Wyoming suffragette; Jeannette Rankin, Montana, first woman member of Congress; Florence Sabin, public health pioneer from Colorado; Sakakawea, North Dakota, guide for Lewis and Clark expedition; Maria Sanford, Minnesota educator; Frances Willard, Illinois, temperance movement activist; and Sarah Winnemucca, Nevada, who helped save her Piute tribe.

The inventors are: John Gorrie, father of refrigeration and air conditioning from Florida; Thomas Edison, Ohio, inventor of the electric light, movies and phonograph; and Robert Fulton, inventor of the steam engine from Pennsylvania.