Governor Cox reflects on politics in Utah

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(Joel Leighton, Derek VanBuskirk)

Governor Cox has worked to be a leader for all of Utah’s citizens: to both the praise of some political opponents and dissatisfaction from others within his party.

Spencer J. Cox stood before a socially distanced crowd at the Tuacahn Center for Arts in Ivins, Utah, to give his inaugural address on Jan. 4, 2021. He had succeeded his predecessor, Gary Herbert, as the 18th Governor of Utah with a comfortable 63.9% of the vote, defeating Democratic candidate Chris Peterson.

Coming out of a year many felt was defined by conflict and division, the focus of Governor Cox’s inaugural address was on unity.

“We are far more divided than at any time in our lifetimes. Hateful rhetoric dominates our political discourse,” Governor Cox said. “Utah is the perfect place to show unity.”

Nearly two and a half years on, Governor Cox has not strayed from this message.

“More than anything, I hope people will remember me as someone who tried to heal the divide that is happening in our state and in our nation,” Governor Cox said.

Governor Cox’s efforts to accommodate both sides of the political divide have been controversial for some, but a breath of fresh air for others weary of polarized politics.

Utah has not been immune to the nation’s recent polarization. The traditionally red state has seen a decline in Republican voters in recent years. Since the 2016 presidential election, both Democratic and Independent voters have increased.

In a time of creeping estrangement between the Republican party and Utahns, Governor Cox has sought to tone down traditionally Republican rhetoric. In 2022, Governor Cox received criticism from conservative outlets for tweeting support to members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Governor Cox’s goal to accommodate typically non-republican groups and bridge the divide across bipartisan politics has garnered some applause from Democrats.

Democrat Senator Stephanie Pitcher of Salt Lake County said Governor Cox has given her fair access to his office to discuss state issues. In 2021, a bill sponsored by Senator Pitcher was repealed, and the Governor had considered vetoing the repeal to keep her bill in law.

“I’ve had a very positive experience speaking with his office,” Senator Pitcher said. “I think in general he does a pretty good job of trying to promote bipartisanship and not making issues political when they don’t have to be.”

Democratic Senator Nate Blouin of Salt Lake County values Governor Cox’s tone, but still feels his actual policies remain divisive.

“I appreciate Governor Cox’s moderate tone on many issues. In a time when political tempers run hot, it’s important to have leaders who bring the temperature down,” Senator Blouin said. “That being said, Gov. Cox has signed almost every bill that’s come across his desk, including far-reaching abortion and LGBTQ+ restrictions that are anything but conservative.”

BYU College Republicans member and political science major, Tyler Hayes, questions the Governor’s Republican credentials, and considers his bipartisanship a ploy to play both sides.

“He’s always going to play it safe. Even though he gave away our flag he did add in an executive order allowing people to still fly the old traditional flag … he did that so he could be in the middle of the road and play both sides, he’s a professional politician,” Hales said.

However, Governor Cox does hold support among many other Republicans. Lisa Collier, a lifelong resident of Utah and typical Republican voter, gave the Governor high praise for his stances on environment and social issues.

“He seems like he’s doing a good job. I’ve read things in the newspaper, and I think, ‘I agree with that decision.’ I would give him a high rating,” Collier said.

Although Collier is traditionally Republican, she has increasingly found herself agreeing with both sides.

Governor Cox’s stances have held popular, particularly among independent voters. While he was Lieutenant Governor, Spencer Cox had more popularity among independent and Democratic voters than Republicans.

Despite the occasional backlash within his party, Governor Cox continues to believe working together across party lines on certain issues is most productive for Utah.

“It makes my job a lot easier when we take care of each other … and it makes it easier when we’re working on policy to have people collaborate, to come together to try and find common ground,” Governor Cox said.

According to Governor Cox, Utah is unique because of the ability for its people to come together and resolve issues.

“I think we need to start being more intentional about that because it won’t take long before we’re just as divided as the rest of the country,” Governor Cox said.

Governor Cox will be up for reelection Nov. 4, 2024.

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