“If Philo was a woman we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” says Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, who is not known for his politically-correct rhetoric at times.
The older cowboy from Kanab knows he’s putting his square-toed cowboy boot right into it with his comments.
As chairman of the House Rules Committee, he’s – for the time being – holding SCR1, a resolution that would replace the Philo T. Farnsworth statue from Utah in the U.S. Capitol with one of Martha Hughes Cannon, the first female state senator ever elected in the U.S.
Cannon was also a polygamist wife, a doctor, and leader in gender politics – and as such has the support of many women inside and outside of Utah.
Each state gets to place two statues in “Statuary Hall” in the U.S. Capitol. Utah’s other statue is of former Mormon Church prophet Brigham Young.
“I know this is going to get me in trouble with a lot of women,” Noel told UtahPolicy.com, standing in the north hallway just outside of the House Chambers.
He had just ended a polite, but firm, conversation with Reps. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, and Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, the two Democrats on the eight-member House Rules Committee, who before the committee started, were leading a humorous chant of “Free Martha, Free Martha.”
Meanwhile, Senate Rules Committee chairwoman Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, has been pushing hard to get Noel to bring the resolution out of the rules committee. Henderson spoke passionately during floor debate saying women who serve in the legislature “stand squarely on [Cannon’s] shoulders.” The Senate passed the resolution last week by a 21-7 vote.
“I knew that this issue would cause some pushback,” said Henderson. “But I didn’t anticipate the negativity and character assassination being spread around about Martha.”
In fact, Noel has been riling up members of his own caucus. UtahPolicy.com has obtained an email Noel received from a constituent opposing the statue change in Washington. Noel had his intern forward the email to the entire House Republican caucus.
“All that I read of Ms. Cannon leads me to deduct that she was an unhappy polygamous wife,” reads the email (which you can see below). “She resented the duties of motherhood, and she was happy for the “freedom” that resulted when her husband visited his other wives.
“I doubt that, in this time of polarization, we want to open up this “can of worms” as representing the greatest of Utah!! It certainly does not represent the feelings of the vast majority of Utah women,” the message continues.
The email goes on to point out that Canon was born in Wales, not Utah, and Cannon moved to California after one term in the Utah Senate.
The right-wing Eagle Forum is also opposed to the change, pelting lawmakers with emails like the one below to convince them to leave Farnsworth as one of Utah’s statues in Washington, D.C.
Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, the resolution’s sponsor, says he doesn’t think Noel is playing games with his legislation.
“I trust rules committee will do their job with fidelity,” said Weiler. “This is an issue that is important to a lot of people, and I think it has a lot of support in the house. I fully expect that it will go to committee to be debated.”
Noel told UtahPolicy that SCR1 would come out and be sent to a House committee for votes.
But not right now.
But before that, he wants to put together a presentation to give to the 62-member House GOP caucus.
Said Noel: “They need to know more about” Farnsworth, who Noel said was born in Beaver, Utah, “in my district.”
Farnsworth was a genius, who helped (in developing an early TV tube) create one of the great inventions of all time, said Noel.
Along with Mormon leader Brigham Young, his statue is in the U.S. Capitol.
Cannon’s statue sits on the Utah Capitol grounds – and a corresponding figure would replace Farnsworth as one of Utah’s two statues in the U.S. Capitol.
But not so fast.
Noel wants a serious debate over replacing Farnsworth. “You would never go after Brigham,” by replacing him in the U.S. Capitol, Noel told Moss, D-Holladay, and Houck, D-Salt Lake.
But there are good reasons for Cannon to be in the U.S. Capitol; both women tried to tell Noel.
In any case, the debate is just starting – and Noel knows he could be in for it.
“There is a gender issue here. I understand that,” Noel told UtahPolicy.com – whose reporter overheard the hallway conversations.
“But don’t just stomp on poor Philo,” said Noel. “He contributed worldwide” through various inventions.