Commentary: Robert Gehrke is wrong — there are more than three powerful women in Utah

Powerful women are absent from lists like this because journalists like Gehrke omit them.

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Justice Justice Christine Durham is retiring after 35 years on the Utah Supreme Court. She speaks during an interview, Thursday, November 16, 2017.

Are there really only three female “power players” in Utah? The answer is no. Powerful women are absent from lists like this because journalists like Gehrke omit them.
If we look more deeply, there are just as many influential female as male “power players” in Utah. Three immediate names that come to mind are former Chief Justice Christine Durham, state Rep. Patrice Arent and Kristin Cox.
As Supreme Court justice for 35 years, Durham wrote groundbreaking opinions, affecting the lives of all Utahns. She has achieved almost RBG status in the legal world. Our current chief justice states she did “more for the state’s judiciary than anyone who has ever served in it.” Not only was she was the first woman appointed to the bench, the first woman appointed to the Utah Supreme Court and the first woman to serve as chief justice, she was also often the lone strong voice for the disenfranchised.
Arent is the co-chair of the House Ethics Committee and Clean Air Caucus and co-president of the National Association of Jewish Legislators. A liberal in a conservative Legislature, Arent’s bill-passing percentage surpasses most Republicans — 70 bills in 17 years. In 2001, the Legislature gerrymandered her district, collapsing hers into the same district as Rep. Karen Morgan’s, another incumbent Democrat. Rather than run against Morgan, Arent beat the incumbent Republican in the State Senate who helped rewrite the legislative boundaries.
Kristin Cox, executive director of Utah Governor’s Office of Management and Budget, was honored as one of the eight outstanding Public Officials of the Year in the nation by Governing Magazine in 2016. Previously, Cox served as executive director for the Utah Department of Workforce Services and ran on a gubernatorial ticket in Maryland. Cox, who is blind, overcame incredible odds during her distinguished career. While attending Brigham Young University she memorized everything because she did not use Braille.

And that is just the start. Think Rep. Rebecca Chavez Houck, Sen. Deidre Henderson, Sen. Luz Escamilla, Rep. Becky Edwards and Rep. Carol Spackman Moss; Angela Micklos, chair of the Board of Pardons and Parole; Laura Nelson, Office of Energy Development; Kathy Nester, federal public defender for District of Utah; Deneece Huftalin, president of Salt Lake Community College; Noelle Crockett, president of Utah State University; Jennifer Napier-Pearce, editor of the Salt Lake Tribune; Pat Jones, CEO of Women Leadership of Utah and former state senator; Rosie Rivera, Salt Lake County sheriff (first female sheriff in Utah); Mary Beckerle, CEO Huntsman Cancer Institute; and Ruth Watkins, new president of the University of Utah.
Other luminaries include the brave young women who lead myriad local rallies and travel with other youth to Washington, D.C.; Donia Jessop, first female non-LDS mayor of Hilldale; and Rachel Jeffs, daughter of Warren Jeffs, who broke the code of silence in sex abuse on live television. There are so many more.
Making a list of “power players” is inherently a flawed endeavor; the list is never complete. But at a minimum, recognition of those who add significant value to our state should be defined more broadly than those within the traditional male establishment. Writers like Gehrke should be wary of their influence – they can challenge the status or quo or reinforce it. With great power comes great responsibility.
The fact that so many influential women were left off Gehrke’s list demonstrates that our media — or at least this column — discounts women simply because they are women.

Lauren Barros

Lauren R. Barros is a family law attorney in Salt Lake City.
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