Candidates for Washington County Commission Seat C address ongoing pandemic issues, county tourism

Washington County Commission Seat C candidates Robert Love (Independent American Party) and current Commission Dean Cox (Republican incumber) | Photos courtesy of Robert Love and Washington County, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — While state and federal races may dominate much of the election news this cycle, there are also local races taking place in Washington County. Among those is the race for County Commission Seat C.

Republican incumbent Dean Cox is seeking re-election while Independent American candidate Robert Love seeks to unseat him.

St. George News asked the candidates about what they felt were pressing issues facing the county, as well as their response to questions related to COVID-19 and county tourism.

The candidates’ answers are featured below:

Robert Love – Independent American Party challenger

Love, who resides in Hurricane, is originally from northern Nevada where he worked as an advanced EMT and law enforcement officer for a time and has since retired.

According to his Facebook page, Love believes in small government, favors controlled growth and wants to make Washington County a 2nd Amendment sanctuary county.

If elected, this will be Love’s first time holding public office.

Why do you think you’re the right candidate for the job, and what issues are most pressing to you?

“I am not a politician or have a desire to have a career in politics,” Love said, adding that after serving his community as an EMT and law enforcement officer, he still wants to serve and saw running for the County Commission as the best way to do that.

A pressing issue for the county is the Lake Powell Pipeline, Love said, and threw his support behind the pipeline, as he believes it is necessary to support the continuing growth in Washington County.

A proposed project Love does not support is the Northern Corridor.

“I see that as more of a convenience than a necessity,” he said. “We have adequate means of travel already.”

If elected, Love wants the county to become an official 2nd Amendment sanctuary county. This would means the county wholeheartedly supports the constitutional right of citizens to own firearms while also standing against laws and declarations that would limit that freedom. So far in the state, Utah and Uintah counties have declared themselves 2nd Amendment sanctuaries.

“I think there would be wide support for that,” Love said.

Should the local health department be handling the COVID response versus the state?

Love said that guidance from the top-down, be it from the federal government to the state or the state to its counties and municipalities, should come in the form of advisories and not edicts.

Each jurisdiction should be allowed to tackle the pandemic as it deems fit based on information and guidance provided from the state, he said. Strong public information campaigns should be launched to coincide with local efforts detailing why certain preventative measures like wearing masks should be observed.

“They should take that guidance and apply it based on the impact to the community,” Love said

However, he said he does not support the idea of a state-enforced mask mandate, although he said that due to his EMT background, he can sympathize with the frustration some officials have over a lack of public adherence to pandemic guidelines.

With tourism continuing to be popular and growing in the county, what is being done to make sure there‘s a balance between the growth of recreational development in the county and not being overrun by it.

Love said he supports increasing tourism to Washington County, particularly as a way to help offset what county residents may otherwise have to pay in taxes.

“If you can build a strong tourism industry, that can be a great source of lowering taxes,” he said.

Love pointed to his former home of northern Nevada, where tax revenue from casinos and large public events helped keep local taxes down. While Utah isn’t likely to legalize gambling anytime soon, Love said he favors bringing in large events like regional car shows and cook-offs.

“I’d like to see that kind of thing down here,” Love said.

While large events and general tourism to the area can be a headache for some residents, Love said that having a lower tax bill was a trade he was willing to make for a few extra minutes stuck in traffic because a lot of people may be visiting from out of town for an event.

Dean Cox – Republican incumbent

Cox was elected to the Washington County Commission in 2016 after serving as the county administrator for seven years and in other county-related positions for several years before that. This has included being the county’s emergency management coordinator.

Outside of the commission, Cox has been a small business owner, having run Colorland Sales and Services with his brother.

Why do you think you’re the right candidate for the job, and what issues are most pressing to you?

“I’ve demonstrated that I am very effective at being a county commissioner and dealing with federal, state and local partners effectively,” Cox said. “I’m also a bridge builder, and those bridges I’ve built over the years are very valuable right now.”

A major issue for Cox is finally getting the Washington County Habitat Conservation Plan renewed. The original plan created in 1996 expired in 2016, and local, state and federal stakeholders have been working on renewing the plan ever since.

A purpose of the Habitat Conservation Plan is to act as a place where the threatened Mojave desert tortoise could be taken and protected so Washington County could continue to grow. Without the plan and accompanying Red Cliff Desert Reserve, development in the county since the late 1990s may not have been possible otherwise.

Currently, the renewal of the plan is attached to the fate of the proposed Northern Corridor project, which Cox has repeatedly voiced his support for. The project, which would put a roadway through a part of the tortoise habitat, is considered a vital piece of infrastructure needed to accommodate the county’s future growth.

Making sure the county has the needed transportation infrastructure going into the future is also a priority for Cox.

Should the local health department be handling the COVID response versus the state?

“The government that governs closest to the people governs the best,” Cox said, saying he felt counties – with the consultation of their area health departments – should have a stronger say in how they deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

That’s not to say the state has no place in directing what happens, he said, but he added that a statewide, one-size fits all solution won’t necessarily work, as each county is different.

However, Cox said he believes strongly in partnerships and that the state and counties should work together to address the spread of the virus.

With tourism continuing to be popular and growing in the county, what is being done to make sure there‘s a balance between the growth of recreational development in the county and not being overrun by it.

While tourism in Southern Utah hasn’t seen its best year due to the pandemic, tourism has continued in spite of it. Many people are coming in from other states that are still experiencing a measure of lock down, Cox said.

“Their people have fled to Southern Utah to recreate because they haven’t been able to closer to their homes,” he said.

Cox said he looks for ways for there to be win-win solutions for county residents and the mass of tourists that pass through. A way the county does that is through supporting projects and attractions that become destinations in their own right, like the Snake Hollow bike park in St. George and the Southern Utah Shooting Parks Park in Hurricane.

Both draw people from across the region and out of state yet can also be enjoyed by locals, which is the type of win-win scenario Cox said he likes to see.

Tourism-related projects supported by the county financially are typically paid for through transient room taxes (taxes paid by those who stay in hotels and similar accommodations), and not by local taxpayers, Cox said.

Check out all of St. George News’ coverage of the 2020 election by clicking here.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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