The Democrats always wanted her to be a little more outspoken, especially on social issues. The Republicans, well, they just wanted her to be more Republican.
In the end, Afton Bradshaw was just Afton Bradshaw, a woman who made a huge difference in Utah politics over the course of nearly two decades. Now, the lone Republican legislator from Salt Lake City will forgo another election. As she takes her finger from the dike, Salt Lake can only brace itself against the momentum of legislative reprisals.
“I’ve heard the snide remarks, the angry words, and they were hurtful to me,” Bradshaw says. “This is the business center of the state, the capital city, and we don’t get the respect we deserve. It’s a party thing.”
There was a lot of the party thing going on during the last session. Mayor Rocky Anderson took a lot of heat over the Legacy Highway lawsuit while Bernie Machen, president of the University of Utah, sustained hits over his support of a gun ban on campus.
Bradshaw looks at the Legislature’s omnipresent gun issues as the great divide between her and the rest of her party. And her greatest disappointment: “When they passed the concealed weapons law, it was the Cowboys against my people,” she says of a 1995 law-loosening restrictions. It’s been going on ever since, with the pressure ratcheting up from the Second Amendment rights arena. The last session resulted in the university filing a lawsuit in defense of its ban on campus gun-toting.
Bradshaw believes Utahns generally support banning guns in certain venues. “Bernie Machen had the courage to come out and say it,” she says. It might be worth noting that Brigham Young University has not been attacked for writing a similar gun-ban policy.
It’s not only guns that have caused Bradshaw grief. She has taken tough stands on a number of high-profile issues. She has sponsored legislation to create state oversight of drop-in day-care centers; she sought to increase disposal fees for hazardous wastes; and she managed to amend and loosen a 1991 anti-abortion law, which nonetheless became the nation’s toughest. She was an insurgent Republican who nurtured moderation.
Bradshaw was, in fact, one of the founders of a GOP group calling themselves the Mainstream Caucus. They hoped to stem the rising influence of conservatism within the party ranks. To cow down the Cowboy Caucus.
“Being the only Republican representative in the city, I feel like I’ve been taking them on by myself,” she says. “There’s been no one to help me. There are definitely two factions in the party, and there’s not enough of the loyal opposition.”
That would mean Democrats. There are only 23 in the 75-member House of Representatives, and Salt Lake has most of them.
Three Democrats—Fritzie Hicks, Roz McGee and Mike Zuhl—have filed for Bradshaw’s open seat. At press time, two Republicans—Kathy Black and Bud Mahas—had filed, and one more was expected. It’s an opportunity for contenders that hasn’t been available since 1984, when Bradshaw first won election. She faced only two really close elections—one against Bob Adams in 1990 and the other against Ken Buchi in 1992.
“I never thought about going into politics, but I was always fascinated by it,” Bradshaw says. “I love the work; to be part of the decision is very satisfying. But campaigning—I couldn’t face another.”
Bradshaw was a PTA president when neighbors came to her railing against the incumbent representative. Ah, go on, she thought. But her son, who’d been a legislative intern, told her she was a lot smarter than most of the politicos on the Hill. It turned out to be true.
She never had any qualms about women going into politics. She grew up with a strong, working mother who raised nine children after her husband died when Afton was only 13.
But even on Capitol Hill, Bradshaw was never an in-your-face feminist. For activists, it was something of a frustration. Bradshaw talked about how the female perspective was important, but how it was also uniquely female. She was always genteel in her dealings with others, leading some to misread her as weak.
In fact, she was one of the strongest advocates of education the state has ever seen. She may be remembered best as a staunch defender of higher ed and what she considers its dilution in a state where everyone wants their own university.
“We’re the big kid on the block, the prettiest girl at the prom,” says Bradshaw, who chaired the Higher Ed Appropriations Committee. “People get jealous of our accomplishments and want them spread around.” What’s happening instead is that education is being spread too thin.
She bemoans the trend to “university-ize” all the campuses in the state. “It’s costing us a fortune,” she says.
Bradshaw remembers well when Weber State College became a four-year institution, promising not to increase program offerings and degrees. Every year since, Weber has asked for more.
“A state our size cannot have so many major universities,” she says. “They need to decide what they want to be when they grow up. Otherwise, everybody will become mediocre.”
Bradshaw would like her successor to be an advocate for education, but in her understated manner, she predicts a successor who’ll be good for the district. That doesn’t necessarily mean a Republican, however.
The state Republican Party recently changed its rules, and will require voters to declare their affiliation in the primary. For now, voters may declare at the polls. By 2004, they will have to register ahead of time.
“The people in my district are moderate,” she says. “For me to win, I needed Democratic votes. This is going to scare off a lot of independent voters.”
When Bradshaw first took office, she did so with three other Salt Lake City Republicans. Now she’s the last one.