Orem Sen. Margaret Dayton finds legislative service taxing and rewarding


Becoming a politician was never in the plan for BYU alumna Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem. One event after another led to a career path that became just as rewarding as it was taxing.

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Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, reviews her notes in her office before a Senate Chamber meeting. (Jessica Coombs)

Growing up in a military family, Dayton recalled the difficulty of being raised in a family with a father who served a career in the air force. Her father’s service in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, led to his absence in Dayton’s developing years.

Dayton recalled the deeper meaning that home for the holidays held for her as a child. She recounted tales of wishing her father could be home for some of the “intense events” that were meaningful to her as a child.

“I had this vague memory that there was this wonderful man out there. I remember being a little preschooler, just a year before kindergarten, and I was so excited about getting dressed up for Halloween. I thought, when is he going to come home and see what I look like and he didn’t. Then it was Thanksgiving and he wasn’t home for that and then Christmas came and he wasn’t home for that,” Dayton said.

Being raised in a military family resulted in Dayton’s family moving all over the country. In kindergarten Dayton’s family lived in Washington, but she spent first grade in California, second grade in Massachusetts, and third grade in New Mexico.

Dayton’s patriotic background has stayed with her throughout her life—having a husband who served in the air force and several relatives who have either served or are currently serving. She shared her convictions of the value of the military and the heroic price they are willing to pay.

“I am very supportive of the military and I’ve realized because of that, it’s even more vivid to me the freedom that I have to be here. The freedoms that we all have, they didn’t come easy. The price of freedom is blood and there have been a lot of people who have given and have been willing to give their all so that we could even have self-government like this wonderful opportunity here,” Dayton said.

Dayton grew up with the goal to be a mother. She attended BYU as a music major who played the oboe in the wind symphony, but then quickly switched to pre-nursing. She graduated from BYU’s nursing school and began working in her profession as a nurse.

Dayton’s goal of being a mother was challenged by the fulfillment and the satisfaction she garnered from her service as a nurse. She developed a change in perspective once she became a mother and retired from nursing.

“I think the most important thing we can do for the country is to create a good home and if everybody had that as our ultimate goal, to create a good home, then our communities and our states and our country would all be better and not be so dependent on the government. I loved working and when I was promoted to full-time stay-at-home mom I loved that,” Dayton said.

Despite questioning remarks she has received from neighbors and colleagues, Dayton has stayed firm in her loyalty and protection of her time with her family regardless of the circumstances.

Dayton’s interest in legislative service was strengthened when she noticed more women were getting involved in politics on the national level in the 1990s. Dayton did not feel like she could relate to some of the “strident” women that she felt were only representing themselves rather than women from all over the world.

Her inability to feel like she had a voice encouraged her to accept the appointment from former Gov. Mike Leavitt to fill out the remaining term of Rep. Lee Ellertson in 1996. Dayton ran to retain her seat just a few months later and won against candidate Gordon Norman with a 90 percent vote.

Dayton served in the House of Representatives until she won the Republican nomination for the Utah Senate in 2006, followed by wining the general election in November of that same year.

When speaking about her years of service in both the House and the Senate, Dayton expressed her gratitude for the “honor” of serving but also mentioned the challenges that accompany the position.

“Our freedoms are hard bought and they’re preserved with difficulty and too easily taken for granted. I feel very strongly about the significance of our freedoms and my opportunity as just a normal, everyday person to be able to come up here and represent a hundred thousand people,” Dayton said.

Dayton’s role as a female legislator has not been focused on her gender but rather on her principles as an individual. Dayton has worked to prove that the gender of the legislator should not “qualify” or “disqualify” an individual from being elected. Her belief is that a candidate’s principles, not their gender, should be the topic of discussion when communities are voting for legislative representatives.

Konner Glick, Dayton’s intern, spoke about his respect for the senator’s principles. He described her resolute convictions as a reliable quality that makes her appealing to voters.

“She knows what her convictions are. There are a lot of senators and representatives that you don’t know how they are going to vote because they have voted on both sides of the issue before. She knows what her principles are and she doesn’t change and I think that’s pretty admirable,” Glick said.

Dayton’s ambition to serve the state has been founded upon her principles to protect the Constitution and preserve the family. She spoke of her future plans as a senator.

“My long-term goals are to continue to support the Constitution of the United States, which is being shredded, and to vote to maintain the family as the fundamental unit of society,” Dayton said.

Barbara Dayton, Dayton’s daughter, described her mother’s ambitious nature and her loyalty to her family. She spoke of the thick skin her mother has had to develop having served in legislation for 20 years, but emphasized how that thick skin has not impacted her mother’s caring nature.

“She makes scrapbooks for all of her grandchildren, she makes bread for everybody in the world, and she reads every bill that comes across her desk. She doesn’t just skim it, she reads the whole thing,” Barbara Dayton said.

Sen. Dayton has leaned on her family and her faith in her years of service. Fellow legislator and co-chair of the Government Operations Interim Committee, Rep. Jack Draxler, R-North Logan, described Dayton’s faith as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the factor that sets her apart in the legislation.

“She’s able to focus on issues that matter and get to the heart of those issues as well or better than any legislator that I know,” Draxler said.

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