VERNAL – When it comes to courting votes from Utah’s rural areas in the upcoming Republican primary, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox is willing to make big promises.
“I will be the first governor to add a rural chief of staff to my cabinet, someone who can represent me when I’m not in the room to make sure that the views of rural Utah are represented,” Cox said during a June 8 GOP gubernatorial debate on rural Utah issues at the V-6 Media Studio in Vernal. The debate was played on rural Utah radio stations from Logan to St. George.
“I will also be the first governor in the history of Utah to have a geographically diverse cabinet,” Cox promised. “We will be bringing in leaders from throughout the state to head our departments and agencies … to make sure their voices are heard.”
Cox can justifiably claim to have been representing the views of rural Utah for more than six years as lieutenant governor. He has been a making a 200-mile round-trip commute from his home in Fairview (a town of about 1,200 residents in northern Sanpete County) to Salt Lake City on a daily basis since 2013.
“I do that,” Cox explained, “because I thought it was so important to have someone from rural Utah in those rooms when decisions were being made.”
Cox’s rivals for the GOP nomination to replace outgoing Gov. Gary Herbert all echoed the lieutenant governor’s sentiments about the important role that Utah’s rural areas will play in the state’s future.
“If you have four counties in which 80 percent of Utahns live, it’s been very easy to overlook rural Utah …” admitted former Utah House speaker Greg Hughes. “But the interests of the Wasatch Front and the rest of Utah are now aligned.
“If you live in one of those four counties (Utah, Salt Lake, Davis and Weber) … traffic congestion is getting worse by the minute, housing is becoming more scarce, quality of life is going down while the cost of living is going up. The rest of Utah needs to grow and prosper to relieve pressure on the Wasatch Front and the 80 percent of Utahns living there are ready to advocate for that right now.”
Former governor Jon M. Huntsman Jr. argues that rural Utah will also be critically important to the state’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re going to see the largest migration of labor, capital and manufacturing since World War II …” Huntsman predicted. “The Uintah Basin should be the energy driver of Utah’s economy and Utah should be one of the energy drivers of the nation’s economy. One of the factors that will be key to Utah’s revitalization will be the degree to which we can make ourselves energy independent.”
Former state GOP chair Thomas Wright, meanwhile, said that rural Utah can depend on his support if elected as governor because of his choice for a running mate.
“Congressman Bishop knows rural Utah and he understands the public lands fight,” Wright emphasized. “He is proof of how much I care about rural Utah. I specifically asked Rob to be my lieutenant governor because I wanted someone who understood these issues, who could connect the dots with rural Utah and who would collaborate with the legislature to advocate for rural Utah.”
But Cox believes that rural Utah needs more voices in the halls of government, not a single loud one.
“We already have assets that we don’t use often enough,” he added. “They are the Utah Association of Counties, to which I belonged when I was a Sanpete County commissioner, and the Utah League of Cities and Towns, to which I belonged when I was the mayor of Fairview. Those groups are largely represented by leaders from rural Utah and we need their voices at state level as quasi-cabinet members to help us make decisions that are going to impact the rest of Utah.”