Rep. Patrice Arent, one of the longest-serving Democratic members of the Utah Legislature — announced Thursday that she will not seek reelection this year to her House seat and instead will retire at the end of her current term.
In a prepared statement, Arent said it is time to move onto the next chapter of her life and that she looks forward to having more time to pursue her interests.
“I plan to spend more time on our spectacular ski slopes,” Arent, D-Millcreek, said. “I also want to travel more — not only to visit with family outside Utah but to explore new places.”
Last May, Arent disclosed that she was being treated for multiple myeloma, a form of cancer affecting a person’s plasma cells. But the announcement of her retirement Thursday emphasized that her decision was not motivated by health concerns.
“Thanks to immunotherapy that was not available until recently, I am still able to work 15-hour days and carry on life as usual,” she said. “I am fortunate to be in good health and expect to live for a very long time.”
Arent was initially elected to the House in 1996 and served in that chamber until 2002, when Republican-controlled redistricting combined her seat with that of a fellow Democrat. Instead of challenging her colleague, she ran against the GOP Senate majority leader and defeated him in a bruising race that set a new spending record for a Utah legislative race.
She left the Senate four years later but returned to win a House seat in 2010.
House Minority Leader Brian King praised Arent as achieving “life changing” legislation during her time in the Capitol.
“Her work across a broad spectrum has saved lives and improved the quality of Utah in hard to measure but many real ways," King tweeted.
Rep. Carol Moss, D-Holladay, lamented in a tweet that her retirement translates to “a big loss to our caucus, to the entire legislature, and to me personally, as her friend. A huge thanks for your distinguished service.”
In addition to her legislative career, Arent worked as an attorney in both private and public positions and taught at the University of Utah College of Law.
Among prominent bills she passed was the so-called “safe haven” law that allows women to leave unwanted infants at hospitals anonymously without any threat of legal charge. The legislation was intended to prevent the kind of horror stories of desperate women leaving infants in trash cans or restrooms.
Officials have estimated the program, which includes a hotline (1-866-458-0058) has saved the life of at least one baby a year.
In the upcoming legislative session she has some amendments attempting to bolster the program and also is pushing a proposal to ban the practice of straight-ticket voting in the state, which could be seeing increased Republican support after years of defeat.
Arent founded the state Legislature’s bipartisan Clean Air Caucus and is known for sponsoring and promoting legislation dealing with air pollution and the environment. Among the bills passed last year was one aimed at making it easier for cities to enforce anti-idling laws.
A Salt Lake Tribune analysis found few cities are actually writing idling tickets, but supporters say the effort is still valuable as an educational tool. Arent told the newspaper she has, on occasion, knocked on the window to tell a driver that they could be risking a citation if they idle.
Her bipartisan bill sponsored with Republican Sen. Curt Bramble authorized the presidential primary that Utah will be holding on Super Tuesday, March 3.
She is also the current co-president of the National Association of Jewish Legislators and is a prominent member of the state’s Jewish community.
“To every person who volunteered on my campaigns, voted for me, or otherwise supported me on the Hill — thank you for putting your faith in me,” Arent said. “Serving in the Legislature has been one of my life’s greatest rewards.”