Speaker on the House: ‘Utah’s Iron Lady’ Becky Lockhart

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From Becky Lockhart’s view as Speaker of the House of Representatives, she can glance up and see a painting of the first woman to vote in Utah. As she gave Utah Valley Magazine a tour of her office and the Capitol, she pointed out the symbolism in the painting, including both open and closed windows. Becky opened a window for Utah women by being the first woman in her leadership role. And now she has chosen to shut this window when her term ends on Dec. 31, 2014.  (Photo by Kenneth Linge)

From Becky Lockhart’s view as Speaker of the House of Representatives, she can glance up and see a painting of the first woman to vote in Utah. As she gave Utah Valley Magazine a tour of her office and the Capitol, she pointed out the symbolism in the painting, including both open and closed windows. Becky opened a window for Utah women by being the first woman in her leadership role. And now she has chosen to shut this window when her term ends on Dec. 31, 2014. (Photo by Kenneth Linge)

Becky Lockhart was voted “Most Stubborn” from her high school classmates in Pocatello, Idaho. As an adult, she dubbed herself an “introvert,” and now colleagues around Capitol Hill in Salt Lake City call her “Utah’s Iron Lady.” But the title that will follow this Provo mother of three for the rest of her life is “Utah’s first female Speaker of the House.” She has led the 75 state representatives for four straight legislative sessions, but she’ll step down as the most powerful woman in Utah on Dec. 31, 2014, after spending one-third of her life in state politics. “On the last day of the session this spring, it hit me and I lost it,” Becky says. “It’s high stress for 45 days, and we’re going, going, going. We form tight bonds — it’s like we fought a war together. And I knew it was the last one.” Becky also got emotional sending her youngest on an LDS mission the week of this interview. Her emotions can also reach the other end of the spectrum as she laughs at “Tommy Boy” and savors fish tacos at Del Taco with her extrovert husband, Stan Lockhart. But Becky is known for showing a lack of emotion when guiding legislation for the state she’s loved since her days as a BYU nursing student. Ladies and gentleman, Becky is in session.  

Becky is Speaker of the House, but she actually enjoys the silence in her home, where she quilts to take her mind off of politics — or to help her focus on an idea she’s processing. She recently gave a quilt to the representative she asked to oversee the John Swallow investigation.

Becky is Speaker of the House, but she actually enjoys the silence in her home, where she quilts to take her mind off of politics — or to help her focus on an idea she’s processing. She recently gave a quilt to the representative she asked to oversee the John Swallow investigation.

Early in Becky Lockhart’s term as speaker of the House, a leading journalist was working on an in-depth piece about the first woman to walk down the historic halls lined with black and white photos of her male predecessors. The article was never printed. He told a colleague he “couldn’t figure Becky out.”

Which is entirely understandable. This woman of two extremes is known for her stern faces and gestures in the legislature, but she smiles at her daughter hosting “The Bachelor” parties in her basement and she enjoys coming up with a good pun. Becky takes her family out to dinner far more often than she cooks, yet she’s a passionate quilter. She finds energy in solitude, although she created a life in the spotlight.

Even her husband, Stan, points out the contrast. “When I married her, she wouldn’t give a prayer in church, and yet now she’s become a powerful leader and public speaker,” Stan says.

But it all makes sense to Becky, who sees her unlikely nursing career as the ideal training ground for politics. “As a nurse, I had to learn to talk to people,” she says. “You walk into a room and have to communicate with a vulnerable person who is in pain. Gaining that skill was huge for me.”

Becky saw a lot of herself in “Quiet,” a book she devoured on her iPad during a recent flight. “As a society, we have valued extroverts, and largely to our own peril,” she says. “Some of the most creative people and problem-solvers are not extroverts.”

Ballot Box

Becky’s nursing background and Stan’s software sales career left the two with a minority of shared interests until they found politics. Then the conversation never took a recess. “On a trip to St. George we were arguing about tobacco policy, and we went back and forth the entire way,” Becky says. “The poor kids in the back were putting their earphones in and hoping we would please change the subject.”

Stan is synonymous with politics in Utah — he served as the Chairman of the Utah Republican Party from 2007- 2009, has been on the Provo City Council and is a lobbyist for IM Flash. But Becky purposely chooses to downplay his role in her public life.

“He’s very rarely in my office,” Becky says. “I’m very careful that his world and mine don’t cross. Oftentimes spouses come to the State of the State address or the opening day of the session, but he’s never sitting by me, and that’s my choice. I think I’ve hurt his feelings at times for asking him to not be with me. I don’t want people to think there’s special treatment going on.”

Becky and Stan were both delegates in the 1990s when their legislator chose to step down mid-term. Becky was the legislative district chair, but Stan was asked to run for the open office. His boss at the time wouldn’t allow him to miss 45 crucial days of work during the session, so Becky ran for the open spot. Still in her 20s, she garnered 84 percent of the delegate vote. But the ultimate decision was made by the governor, who chose another candidate who had votes in the single digits.

“Governor Leavitt has told me personally that the biggest mistake he made as governor was not electing Becky when he had the chance,” Stan says. The next year, Becky ran and was elected and then sworn into office as a state representative in January 1999.

Becky learned her work ethic from her parents, especially her father who taught his children to thatch the lawn. He also required them to rake the clippings after each mowing. Now Becky puts her ambition to work at the State Capitol and mostly leaves the mowing to someone else. “I can’t stand yardwork,” she says. Instead, Becky is harvesting a reputation as a decisive but collaborative politician.

Becky learned her work ethic from her parents, especially her father who taught his children to thatch the lawn. He also required them to rake the clippings after each mowing. Now Becky puts her ambition to work at the State Capitol and mostly leaves the mowing to someone else. “I can’t stand yardwork,” she says. Instead, Becky is harvesting a reputation as a decisive but collaborative politician.

House and Home

Becky’s son turned 3 the first year she was in office. “There’s no way I could have done it without Stan’s parents,” Becky says. “They came and lived with us for eight weeks every year so I could stay up in Salt Lake during the week.”

This went on for nearly a decade. “It gave me a chance to have a one-track mind,” Becky says. “I felt like I owed that to my constituents.” She would stay at the Little America along with others in state government. “If you want to go downstairs for a Diet Coke, somebody is always there you can talk to,” she says.

When the legislature isn’t in session, this Speaker of the House travels from southeast Provo to downtown Salt Lake City at least three days a week for meetings and responsibilities. She uses the 55-minute drive to listen to the radio — including country and ‘80s rock. “I’ve been to a few Def Leppard concerts, and I love REO Speedwagon and the Scorpions.” She also mixes in some talk radio, but the banter doesn’t always sit well.

A few days before Becky was headed to a conference focused on how to get more women involved in politics, she heard a talkshow host refer to Hillary Clinton as “President Pantsuit.”

Becky yelled at the radio.

“I don’t agree with Hillary on most everything, but I’m completely uncomfortable with how this journalist somehow made her a less viable player because she was a woman who wore a pantsuit,” Becky says. “Maybe they aren’t flattering, maybe pantsuits are not in style. But so what? It really bothers me when women are seen as less legitimate based on appearance.”

And yet, she knows that a first impression is vitally important. In the months leading up to being voted Speaker of the House, Becky lost 50 pounds. “Society puts a lot of pressure on women to be a certain way, and I’m as susceptible to that as anyone else, especially being a public figure,” she says.

Becky was running four or five miles every morning, and yet she never had an inkling of a “runner’s high.” Colleagues would ask for her weight loss secrets. Her one-word answer was “deprivation.” She gave up Diet Coke and sugar.

But as the months went by, she adjusted her priorities again. “It’s about finding balance, which I haven’t completely found,” she says. “But I have two daughters, and I don’t want them getting caught up in the pressure of looking a certain way. It’s not healthy. I might weigh more than I would like to, but I want to enjoy how I choose to spend my time.”

Gender Mender

Although Becky’s female status is historic and visually noticeable, she hopes her gender is not what got her the job.

“I’ve never felt like it was about being a woman. It’s about what I can bring to the table. Yes, women are different from men. My style is collaborative and much more open. I want to hear everyone’s ideas. I may not agree with them, but I value hearing all the voices.” —Becky Lockhart

“I’ve never felt like it was about being a woman,” she says. “It’s about what I can bring to the table. Yes, women are different from men. My style is collaborative and much more open. I want to hear everyone’s ideas. I may not agree with them, but I value hearing all the voices.”

Becky’s introspective approach governs the way she makes progress on state issues. “My chief of staff once told me I had to start making decisions,” Becky says. “But I love the process, and I want to make sure everyone has a part in it.”

During Becky’s first year as Speaker, she faced the complicated challenge of redistricting. She wanted it to be fair. She wanted it to be open and above board.

“It took us awhile to get through that, but the public was involved like never before,” Becky says. “Redistricting is probably the most partisan task a legislature will ever face, and it happens once a decade.” Becky’s other “claims to fame” may include healthcare and health insurance reform. She also spent years on transportation initiatives that moved the decision-making away from politicians and toward the transportation commission.

“We have to spend our budgets on the highest and best use, and the more you have politics involved, whoever is in power gets the project,” she says.

Becky raised a family while bringing up her political career. Her youngest son turned 3 the year Becky took office. That same son left on an LDS mission in June 2014, and during our photo shoot he called from the airport to say goodbye to his mom. After she hung up, Becky said, “At least now my eyes will glisten.”

Becky raised a family while bringing up her political career. Her youngest son turned 3 the year Becky took office. That same son left on an LDS mission in June 2014, and during the Utah Valley Magazine photo shoot, he called from the airport to say goodbye to his mom. After she hung up from the short-and-sweet call, Becky said, “At least now my eyes will glisten.”

Home Sweet Utah County 

Although Stan and Becky originally had thoughts of leaving the state, they’ve spent their entire marriage living in Provo. Utah County is visibly represented in state government with both the governor (Gary Herbert) and the Speaker of the House (Becky) giving voice to the second-most populated county in Utah.

“Utah County can sometimes have a strange reputation throughout the state, but when they see strong leadership out of our county, it helps them see we’re actually pretty normal around here,” she says.

The political rumor mill says Becky will run for governor after her term ends at the end of the year. She says she hasn’t decided and won’t make any announcements until next year.

Here’s a Piece of Me

Becky has a small group of friends and doesn’t have the typical to-do list of a fortysomething Utah County mom. But she does have a stereotypical Mormon mom hobby — quilting. Her mother taught her to sew in the fourth grade, and Becky made her own prom dress in high school.

Becky still stitches her way through stressful days and rare free time. A small stack of quilts sits on a table in her corner office, ready to go to a charity auction. “Quilting is mathematical in a lot of ways, and it’s also mindless and repetitive,” she says. “It helps me take my mind off of politics, but it’s also a way to help me focus on important issues.”

She says she spends way too much money on her “fabric stash,” but she also uses her talents as a way to say “thank you.” Her most recent quilt was stitched for Rep. James Dunnigan. Becky asked him to chair the investigative committee on John Swallow. “He did an incredible job and took so much time away from his family,” Becky says. “I wanted to say thank you both to him and to his wife.”

Iron Lady 

Becky’s nickname of “Iron Lady” sits heavily. “Margaret Thatcher was an incredible person,” Becky says. “What strikes me is that her greatest strengths also caused her the biggest problems. I’ve tried to learn from that. She was respected in a man’s world, and was sure of who she was and what she was about. There’s a lot I can learn from her, and if people want to give me the same nickname, I’ll own that.”  

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