SALT LAKE CITY — A resolution passed the Senate on Monday calling for Utah's statue of TV inventor Philo T. Farnsworth to be replaced in the U.S. Capitol by Martha Hughes Cannon, the first woman in the country to serve as a state senator.
SCR1, sponsored by Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, passed 21-7 and now goes to the House. It is intended to put Utah, the first state where women voted, at the center of the 2020 celebration of the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage.
"Honoring her honors all of us," said Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, describing modern-day lawmakers as standing on the shoulders of Cannon, a doctor elected to the Utah Senate in 1896 over her husband and other candidates.
Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, said without Cannon's pioneering legacy, Utah may never have had its first woman House speaker, the late Becky Lockhart. Bramble said the resolution was "ironic" for a state often stereotyped as a patriarchy.
But opponents of switching one of Utah's two statues in the U.S. Capitol's Statuary Hall defended the accomplishments of Farnsworth and questioned what Sen. Alan Christensen, R-North Ogden, said was "politicizing" Cannon.
Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said he believed Cannon was considered years ago when lawmakers voted in the late 1980s to have a statue of Farnsworth join the statue of Brigham Young already on display in Washington, D.C.
"The things you’re talking about were all talked about then," Hillyard said, but the decision was made that Farnsworth, an inventor whose accomplishments also include the baby incubator, was a better representation of Utah.
Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, complained that no one has been "dissed" as much as Farnsworth, whom he called "one of the greatest Utahns that ever lived," but voted for the resolution.
The only member of Senate leadership on either the Republican or Democratic side to vote against the resolution was Senate Majority Assistant Whip Pete Knudson, R-Brigham City.
Knudson said later he just wanted to keep Farnsworth in Statuary Hall.
"I don't know if there is a message being sent," he said. "I certainly respect and admire and feel like it's fantastic to have had a woman of her stature be considered for this award. But why do we have to move him?"
Weiler said no taxpayer funds would be used to pay for the new statue. He said the Farnsworth statue could be moved back to Utah, where Lehi has expressed interest in displaying the inventor as part of the Silicon Slopes development.
Another possibility is sending the Farnsworth statue to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., a suggestion made by Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, who also made a point of reminding senators that Cannon was a Democrat.
Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, is drafting a bill that Weiler said will create a committee in charge of raising money and choosing a design for the Cannon statue, as well as relocating the Farnsworth statue.
"It's time to tell other stories," said Jen Christensen, political outreach coordinator for Better Days 2020, a group coordinating Utah's celebration of women's suffrage. "This is about celebrating Martha and about celebrating Utah women's history."
Christensen said she was surprised at the opposition to the resolution, but that didn't dampen that celebration.
"This is a democracy. It's OK that we have differing views," she said.42 comments on this story
Supporters of the resolution in both the Senate and the House wore yellow roses Monday, just as pro-suffragette lawmakers in Tennessee did in 1920 when that state became the last to ratify the 19th Amendment.
Several members of the Senate Transportation Committee were still sporting the roses when they voted to advance SB119, a bill creating a special license plate recognizing the anniversary of women's suffrage.
Henderson, the sponsor of the bill, said she wants the license plates to show that Utah is the first state where women voted — 50 years before the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920.