Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, the longest-serving woman legislator in Utah history at 22 years of service, announced Thursday that she is resigning from the Senate effective June 1 and will not seek re-election.
“This was not an easy decision, but due to recent medical issues I will not be able to give my full attention to representing the citizens of Utah Senate District 15,” she said in a written statement.
Dayton has been an ardent conservative voice in the Legislature, where she said she took pride in pushing “for less government and more individual responsibility.” She has served in the Senate since 2006, and was in the House from 1996 to 2006.
She thanked residents of her Utah County district saying, “I have been fortunate to share and represent their strong conservative values…. My focus has always been supporting the Constitution of the United State and maintaining the family as the fundamental unit of society.”
While she is the longest-serving women legislator in Utah history, she said, “I’m a strong believer in meritocracy. I believe gender does not qualify — nor disqualify — a person for public office.”
As an example of that, she crossed swords this year with many women who successfully pushed to place a statue of Martha Hughes Cannon — the nation’s first woman state senator — as one of two that Utah may put in the U.S. Capitol. Cannon supporters said it was time for a Utah woman to be represented there.
Dayton instead argued that the state should stick with its current statue of television inventor Philo T. Farnsworth, saying he affected more people worldwide for good than Cannon.
Dayton had filed to seek re-election for her Senate seat, and faced a potentially tough fight against Rep. Keith Grover, R-Provo, who already collected enough signatures to qualify for the primary election.
Dayton had chosen to try to qualify only through the traditional caucus-convention path, where Grover and Republican Emily Ellsworth were also challenging her.
Reports show that Grover has raised about $80,000 for the race, while Dayton had raised only about $11,000.
No Democrats filed for the race. Other candidates include United Utah Party candidate Lee Houghton and Independent American Candidate Tommy Williams.
Dayton was a candidate in the 3rd District special congressional election last year, running against a crowded field, including her colleague, state Sen. Deidre Henderson. When it was clear she would not emerge from the GOP convention, Dayton threw her support to Chris Herrod, a former state representative, to put him over the top and eliminate Henderson, the front-runner.
Herrod went on to defeat in the primary at the hands of former Provo Mayor John Curtis, who won the U.S. House seat.
Henderson on Thursday tweeted, “I am sad to see this news and hope the medical issues are not too serious.”