Karen Mayne, who left the Utah Senate for health reasons, returns for namesake scholarship bill

The Public Safety Officer Scholarship program will be named for the former Utah Senate minority leader, who has been battling cancer for over a year.

As the Utah Senate adjourned for the week Friday afternoon, lawmakers laughed, wept and embraced. The unusual scene was prompted by a visit from retired Senate Minority Leader Karen Mayne, who stepped down from her position last month after announcing her battle with cancer had “taken an unexpected turn.”

Accompanied by children and grandchildren, Mayne returned to the chamber where she spent 15 years to hear the Senate honor her with a bill that would make her the namesake of a scholarship for students pursuing careers in law enforcement.

The Public Safety Officer Scholarship Program is a bill that Mayne began working on before leaving the Legislature, said sponsor Sen. Don Ipson, R-St. George, calling himself a “pinch hitter” for the legislation. The bill, he said, is characteristic of the work the former West Valley City lawmaker did throughout her time in the Senate.

“Sen. Mayne has always been one to promote things for the worker, or the blue-collar guy, and this does exactly that,” Ipson said, choking back tears.

Several senators, most of whom are Republican, stood up to express their admiration for the prominent Democrat, not least among whom was Senate President Stuart Adams, of Layton, who called Mayne “one of my best friends.”

“As a presiding officer, I normally don’t make comments on bills, but I have to on this one — if I can,” said Adams, who was so overcome with emotion he had to pause multiple times throughout discussion of the bill. “It’s good policy, but it’s a great thing to be able to honor someone that is a great stateswoman like Karen Mayne.”

The woman who took over for Mayne at the helm of Democrats in the body, Senate Minority Leader Luz Escamilla, of Salt Lake City, brought flowers to give to her predecessor.

“What’s so important about this piece of legislation, which really is who Sen. Mayne is, is that championship to support the health, education, well-being and security of all workers in our state,” Escamilla said.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sen. Karen Kwan, D-West Valley City, speaks as former Sen. Karen Mayne is honored in the Senate Chamber in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 3, 2023.

Newly elected Democratic Sen. Karen Kwan, who left the House of Representatives to fill Mayne’s seat, said she likely would not be a member of the Legislature had it not been for Mayne’s mentorship.

“She will always be my dear Sen. Mayne,” Kwan said with her voice trembling. “She showed me what it was like, what it meant to be a public servant. I knew nothing about politics, ... and I followed her lead and I’m forever grateful for that.”

Kwan continued, saying, “I just want her to know, also, when I’m up here, I think, ‘What would Karen do?’ And I try to follow her lead still.”

In the middle of senators voting on the bill, which earned unanimous support, the body erupted in a standing ovation. Mayne, in response, stood on her feet for the first time since being rolled onto the floor in a wheelchair.

Mayne announced just over a year ago that she had been diagnosed with cancer while receiving care for a shoulder injury. She was first appointed to the Senate in 2007 to replace her late husband, Ed Mayne, who some of the longer-serving lawmakers shared fond memories of Friday.

Ed Mayne was elected to the Legislature in 1994. Combined, the Maynes have been in elected office for nearly 30 years.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Former Sen. Karen Mayne is honored in the Senate Chamber in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 3, 2023. At right is her son, Paul Mayne.

“President, may I say something?” Mayne shouted from the side of the chamber to Adams.

After joking that she’s not afraid of Ipson anymore because she is no longer a senator, and before insisting that she is still funnier than Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, Mayne said, “Thank you, I miss you all, and I’ve enjoyed so much being here.”

Mayne’s namesake bill is backed by the Utah Department of Corrections, the Utah Chiefs of Police Association, the Utah Sheriffs’ Association, the Utah Board of Higher Education and others.

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“Taking care of our men and women in uniform has always been a top priority for me,” Mayne said in a statement sent by the Senate after the vote. “I am excited for this program to aid and support the next generation of law enforcement officers. Thank you to my colleague and friend, Sen. Ipson, for continuing to work on the issue and making this scholarship a reality.”

After the Senate adjourned for the weekend, and its livestream was shut off, lawmakers rallied to Mayne’s side to hug her and shake her hand. Adams and Escamilla, in cross-partisan unity, comforted each other.