Reese: What to Expect from Governor Cox


(Photo by Justin Fuchs | Courtesy U.S. Air Force)

By Isaac Reese, Opinion Writer


I first met then-Lt. Governor Spencer Cox when I was in high school. My class visited the Utah State Capitol, and he happened to speak to us that day. He seemed like every other Utah politician, with a bland message about how he cares about young people. As I learned more about state politics, though, my impression of Cox was that he was trying to be liked by everyone. His politics seem centered around his desire for popularity rather than a willingness to make critical and possibly unlikeable choices to help Utahns. Cox’s plan for education funding and the way he speaks about LGBTQ+ Utahns are early indicators of this lack of conviction.


Cox recently announced a bill funding $1,500 bonuses for all Utah teachers, and in a tweet he wrote, “I felt strongly we needed to reward teachers and school workers for their heroic work [during the pandemic] — Legislative leadership agreed.” On the surface, this announcement looked like a win for educators, but the next day the legislature explained that teachers from Salt Lake City School District, which has been conducting classes entirely online, would not get the bonus if the district didn’t begin offering in-person learning by Jan. 19. Apparently, Salt Lake City teachers’ work as educators does not matter to our state government, including Cox. For one thing, excluding Salt Lake teachers from the bonus bill oversteps schools’ right to local control of schools. More importantly, though, it wasn’t teachers who chose to keep students online, but the district. The legislature has held SLCSD teachers hostage to force the blue district into in-person classes.

Utah’s state government always attacks big government, but it has no problem allowing the government to step on teachers who are only following what their district deemed the safest way to teach their students during a pandemic. Expressing his dissent from this cruel provision to the bonus bill, Rep. Joel Briscoe — whose background is in education — noted that the legislature wanted to increase online schooling in Utah a few years ago but have apparently changed their tune on that issue, adding to their hypocrisy. It should also be noted that Salt Lake City tends to support Democratic policies and politicians, who are the minority in our state government. One has to wonder if this isn’t some sort of partisan attack.

Cox says he’ll be a governor for all Utahns, but he refused to comment on Salt Lake City teachers being excluded from the compensation they deserve. His office said he was going to “sit this one out.” SLCSD teachers have worked as hard as other Utah educators during the pandemic, especially since they had to adapt their instructional methods and curricula to remote learning platforms. They didn’t have the option to “sit this one out” if they wanted to keep their jobs. Cox shouldn’t have that choice either. He chose to run for governor and he won. As a statewide official, Cox has the responsibility to respond to each conflict, crisis and debate that occurs in Utah politics. If he wanted to “sit out” on issues that affect Utahns so significantly, he should’ve chosen a career in the private sector.

This issue shows exactly the kind of leader Cox is. There is simply no backbone in our Governor-elect and I don’t expect one to grow anytime soon.

LGBTQ+ Issues

When he’s not declining to comment altogether, Cox has a pattern of paying lip service to popular causes but failing to follow up with action. His handling of LGBTQ+ issues is an unfortunately strong example. Cox made headlines in 2016 by speaking at a vigil following the Pulse Shooting in Orlando, FL. He went so far as to apologize for his bullying of closeted LGBTQ+ classmates he had in school. And more recently, Cox appeared on Equality Utah’s forum on LGBTQ+ issues, along with his rival candidates in the 2020 primary election.

Sadly, Cox’s talk of supporting this community has been negated by his actions. In October, he signed a letter urging the confirmation of now-Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett. Justice Barrett’s record clearly shows an anti-LGBTQ+ bias. Regardless of Cox’s reasoning for supporting this nomination, we can never trust him to be an ally to LGBTQ+ Utahns or protect their rights. He has willingly supported a justice whose opinions could take freedoms away from LGBTQ+ Utahns, a clear example of Cox’s ability to act friendly, then turn around to support policies and politicians that hurt his constituents.

As governor, Cox will smile, be polite and never take a stance that rocks the boat — even when it would be the right thing for us or our state. His lack of action to support Utah educators and LGBTQ+ Utahns demonstrates this fact, as do his records on COVID-19 and homelessness, which I have written about previously. Cox will not fight for Utahns. He has shown us time and time again that he seeks to only be liked by all. He hides from criticism, crying for civility and politeness, but acts contrary to his words. His office has already expressed the type of leadership we should expect from Cox as he takes over the governorship. It will be one where, on the most pressing issues affecting Utahns, he chooses to “sit out.”


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