SALT LAKE CITY -- Madam Speaker. That is a new phrase Utah's House of Representative will become familiar with for the 59th session of the Utah Legislature. Rep. Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, was nominated and accepted unanimously by her House colleagues to become Utah's first female Speaker of the House.
The vote was met immediately with a standing ovation from the members of the House and many in the gallery.
"We are so excited for her and for Utah," said Nola Smith, a neighbor of Lockhart who was at the Capitol building at 7:30 a.m. just to make sure she had a seat to see Utah's first woman speaker sworn in. "We came here because my grandma couldn't even vote. I wore her necklace today to honor her. If she [Becky] was just a friend, we wouldn't have come, but this is so important."
In her opening remarks, Lockhart paid a tribute to Utah's first female legislator, Martha Hughes Cannon. Cannon was elected to the Utah State Senate in 1896 and was known for her work on public health issues, one of the many issues Lockhart stated the Legislature will work on this session, as well as immigration, education and the state budget.
"Martha Cannon may not have recognized the significance of her influence, but surely we recognize it now. She was a leader. She was the kind of leader who helped build this great state into the envy of the country," Lockhart said.
The new speaker called on the members to act as Cannon did, to be a leader who remembers their charge to represent the people of Utah.
"A leader learns to navigate the legislative process. A leader learns to read the bills that come before him, a leader listens more than talks," Lockhart said. "I encourage lively, energetic and passionate debate. I encourage you to be statesmen and stateswomen."
Lockhart is now among a small group of women in the country who are serving in state legislative leadership roles. In 2010, five women served as speakers of state houses, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.
When asked how Lockhart will do in handling Utah's Legislature, Lockhart's neighbor and fellow churchgoer noted, "I think she will do very well. If she can control the young women, she can control the Legislature," Smith said.