SALT LAKE CITY — Two days after strong election night returns showed he would be the next governor of Utah, Gov.-elect Spencer Cox and Gov. Gary Herbert came together at the State Capitol Building Thursday morning for a news conference about the transition of power.
Cox, the current lieutenant governor, revealed two staff members who will serve with him while in office, as well as the members of his transition team. He also took questions from the assembled press, including about the COVID-19 pandemic which continues to worsen in Utah.
He said his administration will "have to see what is happening" with the coronavirus when he takes office in January, but he anticipates that the focus will be on vaccine distribution at that point. "That's going to be a very important part in the first part of the year, getting that out to our frontline workers and, of course, to our most vulnerable."
Cox started his news conference by thanking Herbert for the opportunity to serve in his administration.
"It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve with him, to serve by his side, to learn from him, to have a mentor like Gary Herbert," Cox said.
Cox announced two key staffers of his administration: Jon Pierpont as chief of staff and chief operating officer; and Jennifer Napier-Pearce as a senior adviser and director of communications. Pierpont is the former executive director of the Utah Department of Workforce Services, and Napier-Pearce is the former executive editor of The Salt Lake Tribune who resigned from her position in August.
"They have the experience and judgment that we need to help lead our team into the future," Cox said.
Cox also announced members of his transition team, which will be co-chaired by Lynne Ward and Steve Starks. Ward served as deputy chief of staff under former Gov. Olene Walker, and Starks is CEO of the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies. Cox said he is assembling a team of volunteers to advise him on a wide variety of policies. Some notable names that will serve on committees include former U.S. Rep. Mia Love and three Republicans who ran against Cox this year: Jeff Burningham, Aimee Winder Newton and Thomas Wright.
Herbert used the conference to thank Utahns for his decade-plus as governor, calling it "the opportunity of a lifetime."
"It's been a great run for me," Herbert said, "and I think it's been a great run, this last decade, for the people of Utah."
"But it comes a time to move aside," Herbert went on, "and let some fresh eyes and ears, and some other perspectives lead the state of Utah." He said Cox and his lieutenant governor, Deidre Henderson, will "serve the state of Utah extremely well," and that Cox got a "ringside, front-row view" of the executive branch during his seven years as Herbert's lieutenant governor.
It has been an honor to serve with Lt. Governor, and now Governor-elect @SpencerJCox. He is talented, smart, and good, and will bring fresh ideas to our state government. We are dedicated to executing the smoothest transition in our state's history. #utpolpic.twitter.com/4hEoeSH8pD— Gov. Gary Herbert (@GovHerbert) November 5, 2020
Henderson said the team hopes to accomplish "three critical things" during its transition into the governorship: Find the "best and brightest" to staff the administration, take a "fresh look" at each state government agency, and provide recommendations for the policy priorities of a Cox-Henderson administration. "Education will be the top priority" of the administration, she said.
Cox defeated Democrat Chris Peterson in the governor's race this week. He will take over the office from Herbert on Jan. 4.