ST. GEORGE — While visiting Southern Utah on the campaign trail in order to seek the favor of Republican voters, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox stopped by St. George News. Cox shared his take on various topics like the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and why his rural background will benefit Utah overall should he become the next governor.
Cox is seeking the Republican nomination for governor, which will be decided in the party’s primary election June 30. Others running for the nomination are former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes and former Utah Republican Party chair Thomas Wright.
Prior to serving as Utah’s lieutenant governor under Gov. Gary Herbert, Cox was a member of the Utah Legislature. He has also been a county commissioner, mayor and city council member. In the private sector, Cox has worked as a lawyer, the vice president of a telecommunications company and a farmer.
“We’ve never had a governor with that breadth of experience,” Cox said while speaking with St. George News.
See Cox’s answers to St. George News’ questions below:
How might have you responded differently to the COVID-19 pandemic if you were governor currently? And how might you address it if it continues to be a concern into 2021?
“Hindsight is always 2020 and we always wish we had a crystal ball in the middle of a crisis, but there’s no road map,” Cox said as he looked back on the state’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic thus far.
Cox, who was appointed by Herbert to lead the state’s coronavirus response task force, said he believed Utahns should be proud of how the state has responded, though acknowledged there had been some bumps along the way.
“Collectively, what would have been different is getting testing in place much earlier,” he said, adding the virus testing kits sent to Utah by the federal government early on proved faulty, which resulted in the state having to reset its testing efforts.
“What’s why we had to have people really be much more careful and social distance, because we didn’t know where the disease was, what was happening with it. Once we got testing in place, we had the ability to be much more surgical in our approach.”
Moving forward, Cox said those most vulnerable to COVID-19 – primarily those over 60 or with preexisting health conditions – need to be protected while still “allowing everybody else to do their thing.”
How do you propose to help Utah recover from the economic downturn created in response to the pandemic? How would you help small businesses and communities, such as those in Southern Utah that rely heavily on events and tourism?
As a face to the state’s response to the pandemic, Cox has taken criticism over it. Opponents, such as Greg Hughes, have said the state should have allowed businesses to reopen sooner or allowed local jurisdictions more latitude in how they responded to the virus rather than be governed by executive order from the Governor’s Office.
In response to the pandemic, businesses either had to close or greatly reduce how they operated in order to help curb the spread of the virus. This action has led to a skyrocketing unemployment rate at the time. According to recent economic data, however, unemployment claims have begun to slow.
“Obviously, we would have loved not to have shut anything down, not had to make any changes, but that’s not the hand we were dealt,” Cox said. He added he was very proud of Utahns who had made sacrifices in an attempt to help stop the spread COVID-19.
In comparison to other states, Cox said Utah had the fewest job losses per capita in April, and it was only one of seven states that didn’t institute a statewide lockdown in response to the pandemic.
“It’s one of the things that Donald Trump and Dr. (Anthony) Fauci agree on – they both said publicly and privately that Utah has done a really good job… I think Utahns should be proud of how they responded.”
Cox called criticism against the state’s COVID-19 response “unfortunate” and said the business of safeguarding people from the virus while also protecting jobs were not separate issues.
As for helping small businesses and promoting tourism in communities that heavily rely on it, Cox said the Governor’s Office is currently working with the Legislature to take money leftover from CARES Act funds that were given to the state and use it to help businesses remain open.
“To me, the most important thing they (the state) could do is make sure they (small businesses) have their lights on, that they can open back up and so there are jobs to job back to,” Cox said.
Regarding tourism, the state has no control over international travel bans set in place by the federal government and other countries during the pandemic, Cox said. However, it can help promote local and regional tourism.
“People are excited to be here, excited to spend their money here, and we want to encourage that to happen,” he said.
Do you support the Lake Powell Pipeline?
Washington County is one of the fastest-growing places in the county and needs water, Cox said.
Like his fellow GOP gubernatorial candidates, Cox supports the Lake Powell Pipeline project and Utah utilizing its rights to the Colorado River.
In relation to funding – which has been a sticking point among opponents of the pipeline who claim it may be as high as $3 billion-plus – Cox said major infrastructure projects usually have federal and state funding attached. However, those that are the primary water users will still pay their share as well, he said.
“Use fees matter,” he said, “and the people who get the benefit of it (the pipeline) should absolutely pay the most for it, but it is a benefit to the entire state.”
Utah benefits from Southern Utah’s growing economy and the leadership it sends to the state capitol, Cox said. He also joked that many people, including himself, would like to be able to live in St. George someday and hopefully have access to the necessary water to support that.
What is the advantage of having you as the next governor of Utah?
Cox has served a member of the Fairview City Council and its mayor, a Sanpete County Commissioner and a state legislator before Herbert asked Cox to be his lieutenant governor. Though he worked as an attorney in Salt Lake City for a time, Cox’s family returned to rural Utah where he became a vice president of the CentraCom telecommunications company for 10 years. He’s also worked on the farm his family has run for over a century.
These experiences, as well as living outside the Wasatch Front, Cox said, have helped give him a “unique understanding of the rest of Utah,” which is occasionally forgotten by lawmakers. Some days, he is the only one in the room who doesn’t live somewhere on the Wasatch Front, he said.
In order to make sure all of Utah is represented, Cox said his cabinet would be geographically diverse.
“We’re going to have people in our cabinet from all geographies of Utah,” he said.
Having served on the municipal and county levels of government, Cox said that has given him the understanding that the best decisions are made at the local level, and not from the state government on down.
“I’m ready. I understand the challenges we are facing right now, and I am involved in solving those now and we can do even more in the days to come,” he said.
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