Utah legislative leaders optimistic as they prepare for 1st session with Gov. Cox

Gov. Spencer Cox delivers his inaugural address at the Tuacahn Center for the Arts shortly after being sworn in as the 18th governor of Utah on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021.

(Graham Dudley, KSL.com)

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IVINS, Washington County — The Monday inauguration ceremony for Gov. Spencer Cox, Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson and Utah's other statewide officeholders drew dozens of state legislators and other officials to the Tuacahn Center for the Arts near St. George.

The legislators are preparing for their first general session since 2009 under a governor other than Gary Herbert. But Senate President Stuart Adams said he doesn't anticipate a bumpy transition under the new administration.

"Lt. Gov. Cox has been around, and we've gotten to know him well," said Adams, R-Layton. "We're already having great conversations with him. I think it'll be seamless. I think we'll move forward."

While Adams acknowledged there may be a "little bit of a learning curve," he said Cox's previous political experience — as Herbert's lieutenant governor and, briefly, in the Utah House of Representatives — will serve him well. Henderson was, herself, a member of the Utah Senate until Cox asked her to join his campaign.

"I'd be surprised if it wasn't just extremely seamless and efficient," Adams said.

Adams said he expects Cox to maintain many of Herbert's legislative priorities, and that the Cox administration is working with legislative leadership on those priorities now. He mentioned education and infrastructure to manage some counties' rapid growth, as examples.

In the Utah Legislature, Republican supermajorities give House and Senate leadership a lot of sway in setting state policy. Cox is already learning to navigate his relationship with Adams and House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville; for instance, Cox recently detailed his behind-the-scenes approach to resolving differences between himself and Wilson in trying to return Salt Lake City students to the classroom.

The 2021 legislative general session begins on Jan. 19.

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Rural priorities

Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers is one of southern Utah's prominent voices in the Legislature. Vickers, R-Cedar City, said he was heartened by Cox's rural Utah outreach, including his inauguration in southern Utah.

"Being from rural Utah, I think he's putting a little more emphasis on that," Vickers said. Cox is from Fairview, Sanpete County. "Coming down here for his inauguration, and I know he's even going to have a southern Utah office at (Southern Utah University), so that's kind of nice."

Cox is widely but not universally embraced in rural Utah. His general election vote share in many rural counties approached or exceeded 80%, but he's also seen pushback from some who oppose mask mandates and coronavirus restrictions and dislike Cox's occasional public disagreements with President Donald Trump. Dozens of protesters lined the entrance road to the Tuacahn venue as guests filtered in and out of the inauguration.

Vickers said a lot of politicians "want to have an emphasis on rural Utah," but it's hard to walk the walk. Areas like the fast-growing Washington County have vastly different needs than, say, Wayne or Piute County.

"It's kind of a different world," he said. "You have to have a different perspective to understand it. It's not just agriculture, and it's not just mining. There's a lot to it. ... Each individual area has its own individual problems and challenges."

Vickers said one example of an opportunity for rural Utah is the work-from-home revolution accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, as many more employees now have the freedom to work from anywhere. "We've got to capture some of that momentum," he said.

Both Adams and Vickers gave Cox high marks for the ceremony and the speech he gave, which emphasized the need for unity at a time of political discord. "I love to listen to him — he's a good orator," Vickers said.

"Gov. Cox ... hit it right on in so many different things," Adams said. "We do things right in Utah, and I think you can see and sense and feel that from what he said today."


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Graham Dudley reports on politics, breaking news and more for KSL.com. A native Texan, Graham's work has previously appeared in the Brownwood (Texas) Bulletin and The Oklahoma Daily.


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