SALT LAKE CITY — From starting out as an intern on Capitol Hill in 1977, Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake, became a woman who has worn many hats for the state of Utah.
She served on the Associate General Counsel to the Utah Legislature, the Division Chief of the Fair Business Enforcement Division and Governmental Relations Division of the Utah Attorney General’s Office, as well as the Democratic Whip, Assistant Democratic Whip and Democratic Caucus Manager.
Arent was elected to the House of Representatives in 1996 where she served for three terms, and then in 2002 she ran for the State Senate where she served for 4 years.
Arent left the Senate in 2006 and taught law at the SJ Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah. Afterwards, she was elected to represent District 36 and has represented the area since 2011.
One of the things Arent feels passionately about is clean air, and as the founder and co-chair of Utah’s Clean Air Caucus, Arent continually works to find solutions to one of Utah’s biggest problems.
“In addition to being a health issue, it is also a big economic problem,” she said. When businesses and people see the poor air conditions, they think twice about coming here.
To better handle this steep learning curve, Arent hand-picked the co-chairs of the Clean Air Caucus to be geographically and politically diverse, from Logan to St. George, and the group meets once a month to learn more about air-quality.
“I just can’t pass a bill and solve this,” she said, recognizing that there are many issues to be dealt with when it comes to air quality.
At this stage they are asking for more research funding because there is still much to learn.
The research that has already been done by the EPA has been out on the coast, but that proves to be ineffective for Utah’s unique geographic situation.
“There are a lot of experts that help me because I am no scientist, but I want science and research to drive what we do,” she said
Arent also feels very passionate about education, and spends time working on funding for schools.
“Too many of our bills here try to micromanage education,” she said. As a legislator, Arent feels she is not in position to tell teachers what they should and shouldn’t teach.
Although there are a lot of bills being discussed at the Capitol during this year’s 2016 session, former Utah Sen. Scott Howell said that Arent will probably have a knowledge of all of them.
Howell’s first experience with Arent began back when both of them were involved in student government at the University of Utah.
Later, when he was serving in the Utah Senate, Howell called to recruit Arent to run for the House of Representatives. He told her that the community would vote for her – and they did.
“Her leadership skills are second to none,” he said. Howell admires Arent’s commitment to her Jewish faith and to her family, as well as her commitment to serving the underprivileged.
During this year’s legislative session, Arent is making sure there are consistent and fair campaign laws by introducing HB158, a bill that prohibits a personal use expenditure on a county and local school board level.
She is also working on HB52, an outdoor recreational bill, which she says is a very new topic for her. Arent believes that this bill is really important because it carries throughout our state to provide better infrastructure.
Arent recounted an experience in which she was trying to pass a controversial bill, one that would make it illegal for individuals to smoke in their cars with a child present. Despite the fact that there were individuals protesting it, the bill still passed and now it is the law.
She said that Utah is different than some other states when it comes to being a minority. In some states, minority leaders might not even get their bill heard, but in Utah controversial bills do get passed. “It’s just always been the tradition here,” she said.
Patricia Jones, CEO of Woman’s Leadership Institute and former Utah senator, said it’s because she is extremely intelligent and good at strategy. “If you want something passed, she will get it done,” she said.
Arent served as a mentor for Jones, and Jones said people admire Arent for her passion, honesty, and responsiveness for what she does. “She works on issues that people really care about,” she said.
She was also a mentor to former Sen. Karen Hale, who praised Arent’s ability to run a campaign and to bring viewpoints together.
Hale also talked about Arent’s fun personality and great humor. She told a story of how Arent was introducing a bill that dealt with phishing on the Internet. “She came in to the committee meeting wearing a fisherman’s vest and carrying a net!” Hale said.
“I have spent time doing things that people would not expect.” Arent said, pointing to the five or so Cowboy Caucus hats on her shelf.
She said that she often works with people that no one would have anticipated her to, but she believes that it is important to look for issues that will unite people, not divide them, and will continue to reach that goal during this year’s session.