Gov.-elect Cox taps local officials from across Utah for cabinet roles

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox speaks during a press conference outside of the Capitol in July. On Tuesday, the now governor-elect told a legislative committee he supports a plan to create a new economic development commission for the state of Utah.

(Jeffrey D. Allred, KSL, File)

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Gov.-elect Spencer Cox and Lt. Gov.-elect Deidre Henderson announced a list of 19 cabinet appointments on Monday, including several familiar faces from local elected offices from across the state of Utah.

"After a thorough interview process, I'm convinced each of these candidates will serve the citizens of Utah exceptionally well," Cox said in a news release. "Each has impeccable qualifications, brings fresh ideas and, most importantly, is devoted to public service. We're lucky to have such brilliant minds willing to serve the public."

Among the appointees is an official from Cox's home county: Sanpete County Sheriff Brian Nielson, who has served as sheriff there for the past decade. Cox has picked him to be the next executive director of the Department of Corrections, replacing Mike Haddon.

Cox also picked Craig Buttars, who has served as county executive for Cache County for the past six years, to serve as commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Food. Buttars served in the Utah House from 1997 to 2006. He'll replace current Commissioner Logan Wilde, who took the post after the department's former commissioner, Kerry Gibson, resigned to run for Utah's 1st Congressional District, and was later audited for "improper" travel expenses, bonuses and other allegations of misuse of public funds.

Cox also tapped another local official far from the Wasatch Front — St. George Mayor Jon Pike — to be named as commissioner of the Utah Insurance Department, replacing interim Commissioner Tanji J. Northrup. Pike, who will step down as mayor, is also director of the insurance company SelectHealth.

Cox tapped another elected official, Cedar Hills Mayor Jenney Rees, to serve as executive director of the Department of Administrative Services, replacing Tani Downing.

Cox also nominated Margaret Busse, a social impact adviser, adjunct professor at Brigham Young University and former associate director of Social Enterprise Initiative at Harvard Business School, to lead the Department of Commerce, replacing Chris Parker.

Tracy Gruber, currently the director of the Office of Child Care and senior adviser for the Intergenerational Poverty Initiative, has also been named executive director of the Utah Department of Human Services, replacing Ann Silverberg Williamson.

Cox also nominated Casey Cameron, who is currently serving as interim director of the Utah Department of Workforce Services, to serve as the permanent DWS executive director. She replaces Jon Pierpont, who Cox tapped to be his chief of staff.

Cox also decided to keep Rich Saunders, who has been interim executive director of the Utah Department of Health since September, as the permanent executive director.

In addition to cabinet positions, Cox picked four individuals to take on new roles that do not require Senate approval.


Cox chose Nubia Peña, who is currently director of the Division of Multicultural Affairs, to serve in a concurrent role as senior adviser on Equity and Opportunity.

Cox named Thom Carter, the current executive director of the Utah Clean Air Partnership, to serve as the executive director of the Governor's Office of Energy Development and energy adviser.

And Kirsten Rappleye, Cox's current chief of staff, will shift to serve as director of First Lady Initiatives for first lady Abby Cox.

Cox also appointed Shelly Smith, former director of business development for Boys & Girls Club of America, as director of Boards and Commissions.

Cox announced seven current department heads will retain their positions: Commissioner Jess Anderson, who heads the Department of Public Safety; Carlos Braceras, who has led the Utah Department of Transportation since 2013; Gary Harter, executive director of the Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs; Jill Remington Love, executive director of the Department of Heritage and Arts; Utah Labor Commissioner Jaceson Maughan; Ed Leary, commissioner of the Utah Department of Financial Institutions; and Brian Steed, executive director of the Department of Natural Resources.

Cox and Henderson, along with other statewide elected officials, are slated to be officially sworn in on Monday, Jan. 4.

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Katie McKellar


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