Most Utahns are proud that their state is well run — consistently named one of the best managed states in America. Many leaders deserve credit for Utah’s success, and most who receive media attention are men.
But as longtime political hacks and state government observers, we know that many accomplished women contribute greatly to Utah’s success, mostly without public accolades.
Here are a few of the remarkable women in top state leadership positions who manage key agencies, keep the budget balanced, taxes low and win praise for Utah.
Kristen Cox, director of the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget, is well known among insiders for her intelligence, attention to detail, managerial rigor and strict requirements that programs funded by tax dollars are subject to analytics and metrics. She demands excellence from herself, her staff and those spending state money. Taxpayers are well served by her oversight.
Sydnee Dickson, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, possesses the best political skills in the state, without sacrificing substance. She balances the demands of a sometimes unruly State Board of Education, legislative pressures, local school districts and teacher organizations, while looking out for students and parents. She is transforming Utah’s education system to prepare students for the jobs and complexities of the 21st century.
Francine Giani, director of the Department of Commerce, is relentless in her pursuit of crooks who try to defraud Utahns. She also balances the need to regulate numerous professions, while allowing them to prosper and innovate. Her state career has spanned more than three decades, and governors keep hiring her because of her leadership excellence.
Lynne Ward, who just announced her retirement as executive director of my529, Utah’s Educational Savings Plan, has held key roles in state government for decades. She has managed and invested a whopping $14 billion for parents and grandparents saving money for student’s education expenses. The Utah plan is rated among the top four nationally.
Vicki Varela, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism, Film and Global Branding, has been so successful in bringing tourists to Utah that her office is now promoting lesser-known attractions to reduce overcrowding. In 2016, The U.S. Travel Association named her State Tourism Director of the Year, in part for bringing global attention and visitation to Utah’s “Mighty 5” national parks.
Jill Remington Love, executive director of the Department of Heritage and Arts, cut her teeth in inter-governmental politics as a longtime Salt Lake City Council member. She (and her irrepressible Deputy Kerri Nakamura) brought new life into this department, expanding programs for students while guiding a successful Spike 150 celebration.
Linda Hull, policy and legislative services director for the Utah Department of Transportation, or UDOT, is esteemed for her transportation knowledge and effectiveness with legislators, the Transportation Commission, and all other stakeholders. With her help, UDOT is recognized as one of the top state transportation agencies in the country.
Tani Pack Downing, director of administrative services, has led a number of state agencies and divisions for decades. She has been an invaluable asset to several administrations because of her ability to move bureaucracies toward efficiency and responsiveness.
Abby Osborne is the newly appointed chief of staff to House Speaker Brad Wilson. She won respect and trust among lawmakers as public policy director and lobbyist for the Salt Lake Chamber. She could be relied upon for accurate and timely information and was persuasive in representing the business community. She is poised to play an important role for the Legislature.
Ginger Chinn, managing director at the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, has guided interaction with key business sectors to boost Utah’s economy in the face of fierce competition. She is highly regarded in the business community and by her colleagues across the country.
Carrie Mayne, the former chief economist and director of workforce research and analysis at Utah’s Department of Workforce Services, was recently appointed as associate commissioner for workforce and institutional research. She was instrumental in developing many of the successful programs to expand employment opportunities in the state. In her new role, she will be invaluable in pushing universities and colleges to be responsive to workforce trends in the new economy.
Mary Noonan and Cathy Dupont. As the new State Court Administrator, Noonan (a former Juvenile Court judge and a nationally recognized administrator for child protection programs) is quietly improving access to Utah’s wheels of justice. She is ably assisted by Deputy State Court Administrator Cathy Dupont, a former legislative attorney who drafted hundreds of statutes, including many healthcare laws. Their intelligence and remarkable capacity for creative solutions will take the state’s justice system to new levels.
Tami Pyfer, education advisor to Gov. Gary Herbert, is a fierce advocate for students as she promotes the governor’s goals of education excellence and workforce readiness.
LuAnn Adams, former commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Food, recently retired. But we would be remiss if we didn’t point out the respect and admiration garnered during her tenure managing one of Utah’s most important and oldest economic sectors.
Correction: A previous version misspelled the names of two Utah leaders. The State Superintendent of Public Instruction is Sydnee Dickson, not Sydnee Dixon. The education advisor to Gov. Gary Herbert is Tami Pyfer, not Tammy Pyfer.