Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox looks to succeed Herbert as GOP nominee for governor

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox at 2020 Utah GOP gubernatorial candidate forum head at the St. George Area Economic Summit, St. George, Utah, Jan. 9, 2020 | File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — As part of our endeavors to provide comprehensive news coverage to Southern Utah readers, St. George News contacted the candidates running for various local, state and federal races in the upcoming election, including gubernatorial candidates.

St. George News reached out to Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox’s campaign; however, we did not receive a response and instead have chosen to reprint parts of his interview with St. George News prior to the primary election, as well as sections from the more recent gubernatorial debate held Sept. 29.

While visiting Southern Utah on the campaign trail prior to the June primaries, Cox stopped by St. George News and shared his take on various topics, such as the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and why his rural background will benefit Utah should he become the next governor. Cox secured the Republican nomination for governor in the primary election soon after.

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.

What is the advantage of having you as the next governor of Utah?

Cox has served as a member of the Fairview City Council and its mayor, a Sanpete County Commissioner and a state legislator before he was asked by Herbert 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 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.

Cox said these experiences, as well as living outside the Wasatch Front, have helped give him a “unique understanding of the rest of Utah,” which he said is occasionally forgotten by lawmakers. Some days, he said, he is the only one in the room who doesn’t live somewhere on the Wasatch Front.

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.

Cox said his experiences serving on the municipal and county levels of government 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.

COVID-19: 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?

Note: The following is from the pre-primary election interview held in June and does not reflect recent developments involving increasing COVID-19 cases or the two-week mask mandate Gov. Gary Herbert ordered to take effect Thursday.

“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 believes Utahns should be proud of how the state has responded, although he 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 that 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.

“That’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.”

During the Sept. 29 debate with Democratic challenger Chris Peterson, Cox said he stood by what the governor and state had done in addressing COVID-19 up to that point, adding that Utah had among the lowest recorded deaths and unemployment rates compared to other states.

Concerning the idea of a statewide mask mandate, Cox said he was fine with where the state was at that time, which was leaving the decision to enact masks mandates to individual communities. However, Cox also said he had been pushing mask use for months.

“If you care about your neighbors, you should wear a mask. Everyone should wear a mask,” he said during the debate. “If you have to have a law to mandate you to wear a mask … you’re probably not going to do it anyway.”

Do you support the Lake Powell Pipeline?

Washington County is one of the fastest-growing places in the county and needs water, Cox said during the pre-primary election interview, adding that he 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 more than $3 billion – 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.

Cox voiced his support for the pipeline project again during the Sept. 29 debate in a statement concerning Utah’s infrastructure needs.

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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