ST. GEORGE — With one of Southern Utah’s red rock canyons as a background, Gov. Spencer Cox and other state officers were sworn into office Monday morning at the Tuacahn Center for the Arts in Ivins.
Cox become the state’s 18th governor, sworn into office by Utah Supreme Court Justice Paige Peterson, as he repeated the oath of office. Prior to his taking the oath, Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson was also sworn in, preceeded by Attorney General Sean Reyes, Treasurer David Damschen and Auditor John Dougall.
Continuing a theme spoken to during a “freedom fireside” held Sunday evening at the St. George Tabernacle, Cox focused a part of his inaugural address on rejecting decisive partisanship and contempt for others based on some sort of difference in politics or other factors. He referred to the problem as a “crisis of empathy” and “a scourge of contempt.”
“Conflict and passionate debate around ideas can be healthy, but contempt and contention will rot the souls of our nation and her people. And this division isn’t just ugly or unfortunate; it’s dangerous,” Cox said. “But there is good news. It’s not too late to fix this, and Utah is the perfect place to make it happen.”
Cox also spoke of how the state had been handling the COVID-19 pandemic, and while it had been a challenge, Utahns have adapted and kept going.
“We have learned that we are stronger and more resilient than we ever imagined, as individuals, communities, industries and countries have found ways to adapt and innovate through impossible circumstances to restore critical supply chains and keep businesses open and friends and family safe and employed,” Cox said, yet added the virus was still a problem.
“And yet, we have also seen real weaknesses as too many people have lost their lives and livelihoods and too many of our most vulnerable communities – including our Native American, Black, Latino and Pacific Islander friends – who have been disproportionately impacted by this virus and continued racial inequities,” he said.
Quoting Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and others, Cox called for people to “unite with one heart and one mind.”
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection,” he said.
“I love this state. I come to you from the smallest of small towns and the humblest of circumstances. In taking a sacred oath today, my family and I pledge our hearts and our hands to you these next (four) years. We will succeed together, as One Utah. Let’s Go.”
Cox’s words were met with standing applause once he concluded.
Utah’s new governor served as the lieutenant governor under former Gov. Gary Herbert. Prior to that, he served as a state legislator, a Sanpete County commissioner and a City Council member and mayor of Fairview, Utah. Outside of politics, Cox is a farmer and small business owner.
Henderson noted that her giving a speech at the inauguration was a first for Utah’s lieutenant governor and segued into how Utah was a first in the nation to support equal rights for women in the 1800s, which included voting and holding political office.
“Utah has been a beacon to the nation for many years. Even through the difficulties of 2020, Utahns have shown ‘answerable courage’ and done the heavy-lifting required by a brutal pandemic,” Henderson said.
“We are the best positioned state to come out of the current economic down-turn. Thousands of our fellow Utahns have made the challenging pivot to new careers. Thousands more have stepped up to help their neighbors by donating to the Utah Food Bank. Our educators have adapted to be able to teach their students under the most trying conditions, and our frontline health workers have been heroic in their care for the sickest among us. And that’s just the start.”
However, she said, the past year has also shown there are some “inequalities that still exist in our communities.”
“I want to assure all Utahns that there’s room at the table for you,” Henderson said. “In fact, that promise already exists in our state’s founding documents: Your place at the table shall not be denied.”
Henderson reiterated the Cox administration’s goal to be inclusive to all Utahns. While Cox has focused on making sure rural Utah is promoted and developed more, Henderson said the administration aims to hear from all Utahns and serve all Utahns.
“We need more women, minorities and rural Utahns speaking up about every aspect of how our state is run. There will be no token leadership at our table,” Henderson said.
Prior to being tapped as Cox’s running mate, Henderson served in the Utah Legislature as a state senator.
“I am ready to get to work with Gov. Cox, to extend the Utah dream to every person living in every corner of our great state,” Henderson said. “As I take on the responsibilities of lieutenant governor, I will be building on the work I’ve done in the Utah Senate as a fierce advocate for Utah families and Utah’s small businesses.”
During the program, the song “You Will Be Found” from the Broadway play “Dear Evan Hansen” was performed virtually via a video featuring The BYU Young Ambassadors, whose members include a son of Lt. Gov. Henderson, Jimmy Henderson.
According to a press release from the governor’s office, the song “encapsulates the theme of the Cox-Henderson team, that no one will be excluded.”
First Lady Abby Cox is a fan of star David Archuleta, who performed a request of Gov. Cox’s, “Homeward Bound,” with classical tenor Nathan Pacheco, composer and singer Kendra Lowe, and Billboard charting cellist Nicole Pinnell, along with the Lux Choral Society joining virtually.
Also by video, The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square performed “America the Beautiful” and a combined band from Cox’s three Utah alma maters — North Sanpete High School, Snow College and Utah State University — performed the national anthem.
Other facets of the inauguration included a 19-cannon salute and helicopter flyover by the Utah National Guard.
Following the conclusion of the inauguration, St. George News spoke with Utah Senate President Stewart Adams.
“The governor hit it right on,” Adams said in regard to Cox’s comments on politic division and how Utah seems able to overcome it when it matters. “The secret sauce of Utah is even when we have different opinions, we come together. As Senate President, I look forward to working with him.”
Jon Pike, who resigned as the mayor of St. George to join Cox’s cabinet as the state’s insurance commissioner, also attended the inauguration. While he’ll be going to Salt Lake City on Tuesday to start the new job, Pike said he will also be able to be based in St. George thanks to teleworking opportunities.
“One of the things we’ve learned is we can do so much more digitally, you know, and defined through absolute legal needs and zoom and WebEx all those those those tools that we have,” Pike said. “So I’ll be doing a lot that way. In fact right now almost all of my team at the insurance department is working remotely. So I will be too, and we’ll do that as well as we can and be up north whenever we need to, but I get to still be here.”
Allowing staff to work from home shows the new governor’s commitment to Southern Utah, Pike said. It also plays into Cox’s promotion of building the state’s teleworking infrastructure.
“We heard (from Lt. Gov.) Henderson today, who spoke about how we want a diversity of thought in the administration and in everything we do. (In) government we want to hear from all people on all issues,” he said. “So I love that and I’m excited to be a part of that.”
The Tuacahn Center for the Arts, which regularly hosts musicals and stage performances, was chosen to host the inauguration by Cox. He wanted an outdoor venue in light of the pandemic but also wanted to show his concern for the entire state. It’s the first time that an inaugural ceremony has been held away from Salt Lake City.
Capacity at the outdoor venue is 1,920, but inaugural organizers limited attendance to less than 30 percent of seats in order to allow attendees to physically distance. The Utah Inaugural Committee worked closely with the Utah Department of Health to develop COVID safety requirements for the event including requiring attendees to test negative for COVID within 24 hours of the inauguration and to wear masks at all times on the Tuacahn campus.
St. George Reporter Chris Reed contributed to this story.
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