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Kristin Murphy, KSL, File

The Sitdown: Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox gets real with Utah millennials

By Xoel Cardenas, | Posted - Apr. 16, 2018 at 12:29 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — With more and more young Utahns making an impact in their communities, schools and local political scenes, we at decided to start a new series that asks local influencers — political, educational, religious and community — questions on topics that are impacting millennials in the Beehive State.

Welcome to “The Sitdown.”

In our first interview, we sat down with Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox to talk about millennials' impact on local politics, DACA, the future of the Republican Party and his plans, if any, for running for governor in 2020.

Let’s talk.

First question: What impact have young Utahns made on local government in recent years?

Cox:Well, unfortunately, they haven’t made a big enough impact. … It’s one of the things I’m passionate about.

… Most people don’t realize right now, but the millennial generation, as it’s defined, is now the largest potential voting block of any generation in the state, so they really can make a difference. But unless and until more millennials and others start to showing up to vote, I think those that are in politics won’t be paying as much attention to them as they probably should.

A young politician himself at age 42, what does Cox think politicians his age and younger bring to local government that differs from earlier generations?

Cox:We understand technology a little bit better. There’s a lot of discussion with the hearings that Facebook is having on Capitol Hill, and we have senators who maybe aren’t quite as in touch or understand how that technology works a little bit.

We see the world a little differently because we’ve been connected for so much longer. We tend to be a little more willing to listen to people that maybe disagree with us, to learn from them, understand their point of view and hopefully have a little bit broader dialogue.

There are many issues that divide Utahns. I asked Cox what he sees as being the most significant disagreement in our state and what millennials can do to overcome their disputes on this issue.

Cox:The problem is it’s all of them. It seems like every issue now is so polarizing. So immigration is one and what’s happening there. What’s happening with the Second Amendment and gun control arguments. You can pick any one of these issues — public lands. And issues that have always been controversial, now the divide seems to be growing. There’s less willingness in the center to have logical discussions and robust policy debates. Instead, we tend to retreat to our policy corners and stay there and try to throw meat to our base and work them up.

What younger people can do, again, I think especially millennials who see the world a little differently that are tired of the right partisanship (is) to say, “No, there’s a better way to do this.” Let’s use the tools we have now, let’s use the data we have now to truly understand the problem. Kind of evidence-based policymaking.

… Sometimes we’ll learn maybe our way is not the best way. We may also learn that my way is the best way and my opponents were wrong. What we usually find out is the answer is somewhere in between, and then we work together to find policy solutions that actually work. We’re trying to do that with homelessness, opioid epidemic, suicide prevention, looking at the data, finding out what works, not as Republicans and Democrats, but as human beings trying to help each other.

DACA has been a serious issue for young people and their loved ones who are immediately affected, as well as for their advocates. Where does Cox stand? Here’s what he had to say:

Can't see the video? Click here to watch it on YouTube.

What does Cox think the future of the Republican Party is and what would he tell a young Utahn who isn’t sure about the party’s identity?

Can't see the video? Click here to watch it on YouTube.

After the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting, some politicians have tossed out the idea of arming teachers in classrooms. There are both those who support and those who oppose the idea. I asked Cox to give his take.

Can't see the video? Click here to watch it on YouTube.

How can Cox — or anyone else in politics — convince young Utahns that to see change, they have to be politically aware and take part in voting?

Cox: *It’s frustrating, I get it. I was the same way as a young person. … I*t’s easy to criticize politicians. I certainly have done it in my life. People criticize me all the time. I think it is worse in Washington, D.C., right now than it’s been a long time.

… Politics really affects everything that we do and even things that we don’t realize sometimes. Just as you're driving down the road and you hit a pothole, or you don’t like the speed limit. We complain a lot about things in our life that are influenced by politics.

There’s an opportunity to change, but only an opportunity to change if more and more people get involved, and good people get involved.

So I encourage young people … to find that one issue that really matters to them or to find somebody that they relate to, that they believe in and then say, “What can I do to help you get elected?” To go that extra mile to just do a little something, even if it’s just a post on Instagram saying, “I like this person,” a Facebook post, a tweet, whatever it is to find a way to support somebody that they believe in.

By the way, the very bottom of that is voting.

Cox has previously said he’s leaning toward running for governor in 2020, but it’s still too early to say for sure. What does he think will be the deciding factor?

Cox:It is far too early! If I were to list the five things I hate most about politics in our country right now, one of those five would be that we are in this cycle of perpetual candidacy where you’re always running for office. The next election starts the day after that election.

... People are talking about the governor’s race in 2020. And they’ve been talking about for two years, which is crazy! But it’s kind of where we are as a country, and it makes me sad.

So what will happen in my life: Sometime next year, I will sit down with my wife and my children and we’ll have a big discussion about this. And we’ll pray about this. We believe in that. And by the way, just because you pray and feel like God wants you to run that doesn’t mean God wants you to win. If a candidate tells you God wants them to be the candidate, never vote for that candidate. I think sometimes God wants us to lose, too, and that’s OK. But I think it’s important that you’re doing it for the right reasons.

If we decide to run, it will be for the right reasons. Win or lose, we’ll be fine because we’ll know we’re doing it to help other people and make the state a better place.

Lastly, I asked Cox what he thinks Utah's future looks like. Why should young Utahns be excited about the future of our state? Here’s his message to them.

Can't see the video? Click here to watch it on YouTube.

Video producer: Yvette Cruz,

Editor's note: This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Xoel Càrdenas is the Evening Managing Editor at He co-hosts KSL Cafecito, the podcast that talks all things culture.

Xoel Cardenas

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