Address change prompts Rep. Jackie Biskupski to resign from Utah House

She looks forward to spending more time with family

Published: Monday, June 13 2011 3:54 p.m. MDT

Rep. Jackie Biskupski wipes tears from her eyes as she announces her early retirement from the Utah Legislature Monday, June 13, 2011, at the Utah Capitol.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Jackie Biskupski, D-Salt Lake, has resigned from the Utah Legislature because she has purchased a home outside the legislative district she has represented for 13 years. She left open the possibility of a return to elected office, possibly to run for Salt Lake mayor in four years.

"I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Legislature. I can't say that I am leaving politics for good, but I do look forward to seeing who will replace me on Capitol Hill," Biskupski said. The resignation was effective immediately.

Biskupski, Utah's first openly lesbian lawmaker, was elected to the House in November 1998, representing District 30. The single mother of an 18-month-old son, Biskupski said she had decided not to seek re-election in January but had intended to serve out her term. She had to move up the timetable after purchasing a new home in House District 28, now represented by Rep. Brian King, also a Democrat. Biskupski said she has no plans to run against King.

"The upside for me is the opportunity to spend more time with my family, and I am very excited about that," she said. 

Biskupski, 45, won seven consecutive elections in District 30, which includes parts of Salt Lake City, Sugar House and Central City. She is administrative assistant to Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder. 

As the first openly gay person to be elected to the Utah Legislature, Biskupski said her early days as a lawmaker were challenging. Conservatives such as Eagle Forum leader Gayle Ruzicka worked behind the scenes pressuring then-House Speaker Marty Stephens not to seat her in the body, Biskupski said. Stephens refused.

"There were legislators who could not look me in the eye. There were legislators who would not shake my hand," she said. 

Over time, Biskupski earned the trust and respect of her legislative colleagues. She counts the current House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, as a good friend. She spoke to Lockhart Monday before releasing an announcement of the press conference where she would announce her resignation. The two women were elected to office the same year.

"It's great to see a woman in those shoes for once," Biskupski said, noting that Lockhart ascending to the speaker's position was inspiring to other women and to young girls.

Lockhart, in a statement, said she and Biskupski were elected to the House of Representatives in 1998. "Despite her being in the minority, she became very good at working behind the scenes to get legislation passed that was important to her constituents. I count her as one of my legislative friends and wish her the best of luck." 

In May, during a meeting of the Utah Legislature's Redistricting Committee, Lockhart announced that Biskupski had resigned from the committee for unnamed personal reasons. Biskupski explained Monday that she had resigned from the panel because she was in the process of adopting a second child. However, the birth mother changed her mind so the adoption was not finalized. 

With Biskupski's resignation there are no openly gay lawmakers in the Utah Legislature. Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake, resigned in 2009 to devote more time to his legal career. He has relocated to New York City. In May 2010, Rep. Christine Johnson, D-Salt Lake, resigned to accept a position with a gay rights organization in South Carolina.

House Minority Leader David Litvack said Biskupski mentored him during his first years as a lawmaker. 

“We have served together for a long time. But I completely understand Rep. Biskupski is putting her family first, and our caucus respects her decision. She will be greatly missed,” Litvak said.

Biskupski, named for Jacqueline "Jackie" Kennedy Onassis, said she attempted to serve her constituents in the tradition of the Kennedys.

Her proudest moments as a legislator involved advancing social justice for all Utahns. "Social justice means justice for everyone on every level."

Biskupski said she wasn't the sort of lawmaker that ran a lot of bills. She often worked behind the scenes to "kill bad legislation."

"I try to help. I try to make a difference. That's been very important for me," she said.

Biskupski, who said she is attempting to adopt a second child as a sibling to her son, Archie, said one of her regrets was not being able to repeal legislation that prohibits gay couples from adopting children.

Perhaps one of Biskupski's greatest contributions as a lawmaker was "articulating a message from a personal place," she said.

"So much of what happens up here is so negative toward the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community." 

As for her successor, Biskupski said she hopes that party leaders "choose wisely."

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com

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