Cushman: Governor Spencer Cox, A Year Later


Sydney Stam

(Graphic by Sydney Stam | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By KC Ellen Cushman, Opinion Writer


In April 2020, I wrote a piece explaining why I would cast my ballot for Spencer Cox in the Utah gubernatorial race, despite our different ideologies. I saw a politician willing to stand against his own party when it mattered most and with a history of taking accountability. I saw him as a Republican I could admire, a rare find in the post-Trump political landscape.

Now, after a year with Cox as governor, his approval has dipped only slightly for most Utahns. However, as a progressive Cox voter, I find my faith in our governor wavering more than it ever has. His support for the legislature’s new voting districts, a map that effectively silenced the voice of non-Republican Utahns for the next 10 years, showed a lack of commitment to serving all of Utah.

The Good

In my previous endorsement of Cox, I praised him for his integrity. He appeared to approach policy with nuance. And, as stated in my previous piece, he developed a reputation “as a politician willing to speak out in the face of a perceived wrong.” I trusted him to stand up for human decency. After four years of a Trump presidency, Cox felt like a breath of fresh air. He cemented that implicit promise to decency and bipartisan respect with a campaign ad made with his democratic competitor, Chris Peterson. In the ad, he talked about shared Utah values and respect for people across the political aisle.

Throughout his time as governor, I’ve seen a lot of the Cox I looked up to during his campaign. When online hate was directed at the family of a Utah politician, he spoke out, encouraging Utahns to keep families out of it, be respectful and remember the “Utah way.”

When Canyons School District began pulling certain books from library shelves in its schools, Cox called out the behavior and urged caution when banning books. When members of his own party encouraged baseless election fraud rumors and Republicans rallied for an audit of Utah elections, the governor and other officials denied the request. They released a statement explaining that to do so would be senseless and damaging to faith in our elections.

Cox has even demonstrated his open-mindedness and nuanced approach to politics by expressing a willingness to reconsider his support of the death penalty.

Overall, he has, on many occasions, reaffirmed his commitment to decency through action. 

The Bad

However, despite the good I’ve continued to see from Gov. Cox, he let down progressive voters in a significant way. In my piece endorsing him, I expressed my belief that Cox would be a candidate not just for Republicans in Utah, but for Utahns of diverse ideologies, backgrounds and sexualities. He made me hopeful that, as a progressive, I’d finally have a voice in deep red Utah. That hope was tarnished in early November when he signed off on the legislature’s new map for Utah’s voting districts.

When Wisconsin’s governor, Tony Evers, was asked to sign off on gerrymandered redistricting, he stated that gerrymandering was wrong and vetoed the legislation. When presented with new districts that were “weaponized” against progressives and clearly gerrymandered, Governor Cox did nothing of the sort. Despite many Utahns calling on him to veto the legislation, he refused.

I could potentially justify his lack of a veto as a policy difference. But he still failed to speak out strongly against partisan gerrymandering or urge his legislative colleagues to create fair districts.

The Aftermath

Progressives who voted for Cox chose a candidate who spoke of a commitment to bipartisanship — someone who they thought would give them a voice. Cox’s lack of opposition to the redistricting legislation betrays those who trusted Cox to stand up for us in the face of wrongdoing. When he could have stood up for Utahns across all political aisles, he remained silent instead. His signature locked us out of having a voice in Utah politics for the next 10 years.

As a politician who has stood up for trust in democracy, I hope Cox recognizes the effects of broken trust in his constituency. He must put in the work to ensure non-Republican voters get heard in the future. When he gets presented with other decisions that will exclude non-Republican voters, we’ll be watching.

After almost a year with Cox as governor, I still see a politician with many admirable goals for Utah and a lot of integrity. However, moving forward, I hope that Cox defends all Utahns the way I’ve seen him do so in the past. Most importantly, I hope he will better stand against decisions that will harm his constituents for years. I’ve seen the kind of governor Cox can be. I want him to bring that hope back to the more liberal Utahns he deserted in the redistricting process.


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