PARK CITY — Political discord over the election of President Donald Trump may have influenced the departure of the state's largest annual convention, according to Utah's lieutenant governor.
Speaking to a panel of outdoor recreation journalists during the Outdoor Press Camp at Deer Valley Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said the outcome of the presidential election may have been at least partly responsible for the communication breakdown between the state and the Outdoor Industry Association that eventually led to the Outdoor Retailer show pulling out of the Beehive State.
"We had been having these (negotiations) for years. Every year, we would get to the 'same page' and we moved forward," Cox explained. "The only thing that changed this year was that Donald Trump got elected."
He believes the outdoor association was concerned that the new administration would repeal national monument designations that would protect government lands in favor of business interests that might be detrimental to land use and the environment.
"Suddenly, you had Bears Ears and now Bears Ears could go away," he continued. "It was just 'a bridge too far' for a lot of people."
He added that in a private discussion with one of the leaders of the effort to take the trade show out of Utah, he was told that the industry "lit a fire and we thought we could put it out, and it turned into a raging brush fire."
Cox said the unnamed leader also said he really didn't want to pull out of Utah but admitted, "I couldn't stop it. It's a runaway fire."
Cox called the entire situation "sad" and said that it should never have gotten to such an acrimonius point that their differences could not have been resolved like they had been so many times before.
In February, organizers of the Outdoor Retailer Winter and Summer Markets announced after a conference call with Gov. Gary Herbert and others they would end their 20-year relationship with Utah after next year's shows. The move was in response to the outdoor industry's frustrations with state officials' efforts to reverse the Obama administration's newly designated Bears Ears National Monument and stated goals to reduce federal control of lands in Utah.
At the time, Cox said state leaders were “surprised and dumbfounded” by the show organizers' unwillingness to continue discussions, calling it a disappointing end to what had for so long been a cordial business relationship. Noting that industry organizers released a two-page statement just minutes after the call ended, Cox accused some industry advocates of conspiring against a potential resolution.
On Wednesday, he said one of the saddest results of the decision to leave the state was the fact that some Utahns were pleased about the separation.
"There were a lot of people who were really happy that Outdoor Retailer was leaving, because now 'we don't have to listen to them anymore,'" he said. "It set things back a decade because the outdoor recreation industry had fought so long for a seat at the (political) table, now the extreme voices on the (right) feel like it was a win."
Fellow panelist Tom Adams, director of the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation, recalled the conference call with similar disappointment.
"It was the toughest moment in my career," Adams said. "To know that we had all these amazing minds at the table and everybody (was consumed by the Trump effect). Heels were dug in and they said, 'We don't hear (from you) what we want you to say and we are going to part our ways.'"
He noted that despite the decision to move to another location, the entities involved are still maintaining cordial relationships because at some point "they might want to come back to Salt Lake."
Kenji Haroutunian, Outdoor Press Camp director and former show director for Outdoor Retailer, said the divide between state leaders and outdoor industry advocates could eventually be closed if both sides are willing to address their differences with open minds and willing spirits.
"There have been some misunderstandings, like so many things, the solutions rest in the middle where there is conversation, compromise and creativity — back and forth," he said. "That is how we're going to get to where we need to get to."