Mayne, who retired in January, followed example of her late husband

By Bubba Brown


Former Sen. Karen Mayne cuts the ribbon at an open house for RMCOEH’s headquarters in Salt Lake City in 2021. Mayne, who retired from the Senate in January, has tirelessly advocated for occupational health and safety in Utah and was instrumental in the legislation that turned RMCOEH into a multi-university partnership program between the U and WSU.

It was decades ago now, but Karen Mayne remembers.

Her husband, Eddie Mayne, had come home from the Kennecott Copper Mine, where he worked and served as the president of the local union. It had been another painful day in a long line of them. Another day of the ache of it, and the sorrow, churning in his stomach.

No one at the mine was under any illusion about the nature of the job. Certain risks were inherent. But Eddie had seen enough — enough miners injured, enough returning to their families after life-altering events, enough not returning at all.

“He came home and said, ‘I’m not going to bury any more,’” said Karen Mayne, recently recalling his words. “That stuck with me. He didn’t want to go through that again.”

That, she says, was where it all began.

‘A wonderful legacy’

Something happened earlier this year that hadn’t occurred for nearly three decades: The Utah Legislature kicked off its general session without a Mayne serving on Capitol Hill. In early January, Karen announced that she was retiring from the Utah Senate due to health reasons, capping a 15-year political career that began when she was appointed to fill the seat her late husband had first won in 1994.

For Utahns, it marked the end of an era — one in which the state, led by the Maynes, made remarkable progress in ensuring the health and safety of workers and, by extension, the economic vitality of businesses.

“My general view is that no other set of legislators in Utah’s history has had that effect on occupational health and safety in the state,” said Dennis Lloyd, who worked closely with both Maynes as an executive at WCF Insurance and the chair of the RMCOEH Advisory Board. “It’s just a wonderful legacy that Karen and Ed are leaving to us.”

Lloyd, who has a deep knowledge of legislative matters and once worked on Capitol Hill, is not alone in that view. When news of Karen’s retirement broke, the outpouring from her colleagues of both political parties and others who’d had a front-row seat to her career was swift. They lauded her professionalism, her dedication to bipartisanship, and her extensive record of passing legislation on issues of importance to her — notably occupational and environmental health and safety.

“I am honored, and I’m thrilled that my colleagues and those that I have worked with appreciate the work that I’ve tried to bring forth,” she said.

Former state Sen. Karen Mayne speaks at the Utah Capitol in 2019. Mayne, a champion of worker health and safety, announced her retirement in January. Photo credit: Utah Senate

Among those quick to praise Mayne is Paul Rogers, a former Republican state legislator and current lobbyist who has worked extensively to promote RMCOEH and occupational health and safety on Capitol Hill. He characterized Mayne as a builder at the Statehouse rather than “a knock-the-walls-down combatant” and said one element that made her successful in advocating for the issue was her desire to make businesses a partner, not an obstacle, in the effort to improve worker health and safety.

“She has a high confidence in employers, that if they had the right tools, chances were we could get the right response,” he said. “I think we’ve had an increasingly more enlightened workforce because we’ve had an increasingly more enlightened employer community.”


The list of Mayne’s legislative accomplishments centered on worker health and safety is extensive, like that of her late husband before her. To RMCOEH Director Kurt Hegmann, who has led the center since 2003, the Maynes’ contributions have been nothing short of miraculous. He describes their work with a tone of veneration.

It is not hard, he says, to imagine a scenario where, without their efforts, the center would not exist or would be, at most, treading water rather than on a continuously upward trajectory in which it trains dozens of students, serves thousands of businesses, and impacts tens of thousands of workers annually.

Being stuck in a state of stagnation would be similar to the situation faced by centers like RMCOEH in other parts of the country that have not had a legislative force like the Maynes championing workers and businesses.

“We’ve got a history of very little growth in the U.S. for long periods of time in terms of occupational health and safety but a huge need,” Hegmann said. “What they have done is ignored that history and instead have created a legacy on which we can be visionary in building the future. Without them, we would be in the same mode that the rest of the country is in.”

Karen Mayne traces it all back to her husband. In addition to his union leadership role at Kennecott, he was elected in 1977 to the presidency of the Utah chapter of the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the U.S. That same year, he helped found RMCOEH at the University of Utah. By the time he was elected to the state Senate in 1994, where he served until his death in 2007 from lung cancer, he had already devoted his life to working with the mines and businesses to improve conditions for workers and ensure that as few of them as possible suffered the fate that had befallen too many people he’d known.

His commitment continued at the Statehouse, and when Karen was appointed to his seat, she felt a responsibility to build on his achievements. She said she is particularly proud of her work to support RMCOEH, which included legislation in 2021 establishing the center as the state’s first multi-university partnership program, between the University of Utah and Weber State University. That law laid the foundation for legislators in the following two years to provide RMCOEH with $2.8 million in ongoing, annual funding that will allow the center to flourish like never before.

“(RMCOEH) is the conduit for having a healthy workplace environment, and I think that has brought everyone together: companies, agencies, workers, everyone you can think of,” she said. “They all work together.”

Across the aisle

Among the more remarkable elements of Mayne’s political career is this: She is one of the most prolific sponsors of successful bills in recent Utah history despite being a Democrat in a legislature overwhelmingly controlled by Republicans.

Those who worked with her say there is no mystery in this seeming contradiction.

She simply cared more about getting things done than scoring political points and understood that her colleagues across the aisle were not her enemies. They held different views on many issues, yes, but they also shared common values and beliefs — including the notion that workers are entitled to a safe and healthy work environment and that investments toward that goal pay broad dividends for businesses and the economy.

“She’s fearless,” Lloyd said. “She doesn’t hesitate to work with her Republican colleagues and to have a bill that reflects input from both sides. And that is a trait of a great legislator.”

Rogers noted that Mayne’s approach reflected the realities of the balance of power in the Statehouse. Put plainly, she could not pass a single piece of legislation without winning the support of Republicans, and she was “not going to let biases of party get in the way of productive outcomes.”

“She went to work every day with the idea of, ‘How do I help working families?’” he said.

That sense of pragmatism shines through when Mayne reflects on her legislative accomplishments. She does not discuss her commitment to bipartisanship as if it were some exceptional trait, even though many of her colleagues and observers disagree.

For her, it boiled down to one simple philosophy: “Good legislation passes.”

“If you bring good thoughts, good legislation, and speak to your colleagues so they understand where you’re going, they’ll vote for it,” she said. “They know what’s right, and they know that if good legislation is brought forward, they’ll support it.”

At the same time, Lloyd said, Mayne was not the type of politician to abandon her principles in pursuit of a legislative victory. Her actions were dictated not by the desire to see her name on a bill that reaches the governor’s desk but by deep-seated beliefs about right and wrong and what makes effective public policy.


Karen and Eddie Mayne established a legacy of progress on occupational health and safety unlike any other set of
lawmakers in Utah history, says RMCOEH Advisory Board
Chair Dennis Lloyd.

“That made her a very powerful force in the Legislature because (her colleagues) would recognize the merit of her position,” Lloyd said.

Seeds for the future

The words remain in her heart: “I’m not going to bury any more.”

Mayne did not understand all those decades ago how profoundly that statement would change her life. She couldn’t have known how it would lead her husband to the presidency of the Utah AFL-CIO, and then to the halls of the Statehouse. She certainly couldn’t have known that it would guide her down a similar path, one that saw her become one of the most respected and significant Utah legislators in recent decades.

But she is grateful. For the opportunity to have a voice. For the opportunity to serve. For the opportunity to make a difference in other people’s lives.

As she reflects on the legacy she and her husband have left, the emphasis in her voice makes it clear her dedication to the cause has not dimmed.

“Our goal is that when somebody leaves their home to go to work, they come back whole every day,” she said. “And that’s what has always guided me.”

And though her days in the Statehouse are behind her, she is nonetheless looking forward. The foundation that she and Eddie played such a crucial role in erecting is strong. Others at the Statehouse have joined their efforts, and there is a lengthy list of leaders in industry, labor, and academia who are committed to further improving occupational health and safety.

True, for the first time in almost 30 years, there is no longer a Mayne on Capitol Hill. No matter, she says.

The cause will march forward.

“The future is where my heart is,” she said. “The seeds that we have planted will continue to grow.”

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