Sanpete’s own Spencer Cox
is new governor
By Robert Stevens
As expected, Spencer Cox is going to be the next governor of Utah.
When election night wrapped up, Sanpete County’s hometown hero pulled in 649,525 votes (64.2 percent), in comparison to his democrat opponent, Chris Peterson, who garnered statewide 314,825 votes (31.1 percent) in the gubernatorial race. At midnight on Tuesday, the Associated Press called the race for Cox with 72 percent reporting, as Cox had enough statewide votes that it was not possible to be overtaken.
Cox appeared on an online broadcast from the Peterson Dance Hall in Fairview City to address his supporters virtually in lieu of a traditional election night victory party and press conference due to concerns about the rising cases of COVID-19.
“Like so many things this year, COVID has changed the way we do elections and celebrations, so we find ourselves here, with my family, but not here with you,” he said in his broadcast. “But we are so grateful for your kindness, your generosity and your support.”
The newly-elected governor of Utah went on to elaborate on not only his Sanpete heritage to the viewers of his broadcast, but the heritage of the Peterson Dance Hall itself, explaining the sacrifice and restoration that went into making it the iconic local structure it is now, setting the stage for a metaphor.
“We are going through a tremendous difficulty right now,” he said. “COVID is literally destroying lives and families. It has caused great illness, and of course a collapse in our economy, not just here but across the world. We are so grateful to the many Utahns that have made sacrifices to prevent its spread.”
He implored Utahns to wear masks and socially distance to do their part to slow the virus, but followed that with a message of positivity.
“When we get through this virus, and we will, we will have an opportunity to build something together that will serve many future generations to come,” he said.
Cox shared the story of the loss of his friend and colleague, Brent Taylor, former mayor of North Ogden and Army National Guard officer, who was killed while serving in Afghanistan. Cox emphasized the importance of participating in the election process as something all Americans should unite in, something he said Taylor held dear.
“My fellow Utahns, I promise to you; I am not the governor of Utah of the Republican party,” he said. “I am the governor of the State of Utah, and that means all of us.”
He went on to say, “No matter what your race or creed or religion, whatever it is, we see you and we care deeply about you.”
In closing, Cox gave a rallying cry for the State of Utah to become a beacon of peace, civil rights, humanity and prosperity.
Here in Cox’s home county, the skew of votes between the candidates was even further apart, with Cox having 9,619 votes cast for him in Sanpete, while Peterson only managed 934 votes.
It is worth noting, however, that when the county clerk’s office shut down ballot counting efforts shortly before midnight to resume the next day, there were still more than 500 ballots yet to be counted.
None of this comes as a shock to anyone. Cox’s real battleground was the GOP primary in June, where he faced off against three tough competitors, including former Utah governor and U. S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr. and former Utah House speaker Greg Hughes.
Cox beat out his closest competitor, Huntsman, by about 9,100 votes in the primary and essentially solidified his win in the overall race for governor, considering the overwhelming majority of red voters in the Beehive State.
After clearing the primary, Cox’s campaign against Peterson was never close, but it was punctuated by some memorable highlights, most recently being a series of public service announcements produced in cooperation by Cox and Peterson calling for civility among politicians during and after elections.
“While our national political dialogue continues to decline, Chris and I agree that it’s time we expect more of our leaders and more of each other,” said Cox in the announcement. “Utah has an opportunity to lead the charge against rank tribalism and commit to treating each other with dignity and respect.”
In his broadcast to Utahns from the Peterson Dance Hall, Cox specifically thanked Peterson for sticking to that sentiment throughout the campaign.
Accompanied by his running mate, Sen. Deirdre Henderson, Cox will replace Gov. Gary Herbert, whom Cox served as Lt. Gov. under since 2013. Herbert has been in office since 2009, when he took over for Huntsman, who left his seat as Utah’s top man to become ambassador to China for the United States. Herbert endorsed Cox for the next governor after announcing he would not pursue reelection.
Cox is a lifelong Sanpete County native who was raised in Fairview. His career in politics began as a member of the Fairview City Council and went on to be elected mayor as well. He was eventually elected as Sanpete County Commissioner in 2008 and to the Utah House of Representatives in 2012. In 2013, Herbert chose Cox to replace Greg Bell as lieutenant governor and Cox was unanimously confirmed by the Utah Senate.
Cox graduated from North Sanpete High School and attended Snow College before serving an LDS mission to Mexico. He went on to attend Utah State University (USU), where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science, was named a Student of the Year and graduated with a 4.0 GPA. After USU, Cox went on to receive his Juris Doctor from Washington and Lee University School of Law.
Cox is the oldest of eight children who grew up on the family farm in Fairview City. He married his high school sweetheart, Abby, and they have four children.
Sen. Henderson was chosen by Cox as his running mate in March. Before joining the Utah State Senate, Henderson was a business consultant and was involved in the U.S. Congressman Jason Chaffetz’s campaign in 2008.
Henderson is married to her husband, Gabe, and they have five children. She is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Cox’s opponent, Chris Peterson, is an attorney who works as the John J. Flynn Endowed Professor of Law at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law.
He specializes in consumer protection law and served as a finance official for the Obama administration, where he focused on protecting military servicemen from predatory lending practices.