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Jacquelyn Orton says her late husband former Democratic U.S. Rep. Bill Orton likely would shake his head in disbelief that she's finally running for office, after turning down encouragement from him and others to do so for years.
She announced Wednesday that she is running for state House District 24, which covers part of downtown Salt Lake City, Capitol Hill and the Avenues, to replace Democratic Rep. Rebecca Chavez Houck, who is not seeking re-election next year.
"The time is right," Orton said, saying she wanted to wait until her two sons were grown before attempting a run. Her son Will is 22 and just graduated from Brown University, and her son Wesley is 20, in his second year at the University of Virginia.
Orton, who is becoming a real estate agent and has operated a business advising youths on how to apply for college, said she was asked by Democrats several times to run for the Legislature, the City Council or even governor.
"Bill always encouraged me to think about it, and I said, 'Bill are you serious?' " Orton said. But with more recent prods, she decided to try now. "I have time that I can spend devoted to the people. … It's a new adventure. We're going to have fun."
Orton said she has been around politics all of her life. "I come from a political family," where both parents were teacher-lobbyists for the Alabama Education Association.
She worked in Washington, D.C., for a U.S. House banking subcommittee that investigated the House banking scandal of the 1990s. Later, she was a lobbyist for the National Association of Federal Credit Unions when she met and married longtime-bachelor Bill Orton while he was a member of Congress.
Orton served in the House from 1991 to 1997. He died in an ATV accident in 2009.
She estimates that she has worked on 50 to 60 political campaigns through the years. "Last year alone, I probably walked for 15 candidates," Orton said. "I've never considered running myself. I'm always behind the scenes. I advise a lot of candidates."
She is launching her campaign more than a year before the 2018 Utah Democratic Party Convention because "I want to walk every single street in my district before next June. I want them to tell me what they want me to work on."
Still, she says, a top issue that she wants to address is improving education. "I've worked between 4,000 and 5,000 hours in volunteer time in the Salt Lake City School District" and helped run academic camps on the Navajo reservation.
She said helping people earn a living wage is also among her priorities, and she would like to help enact term limits. "I really believe we have a better government with the turnover of people, ideas and a fresh perspective."
She adds, "I don't see this as a long-term job. I see this as an opportunity to serve."