Utah has a new governor. The nation can learn from his civility
Utah’s first Generation X governor made it clear he will govern with a backdrop of Christian charity and our commonly held “bonds of affection.”
Interstate 15 south from Salt Lake City to St. George always looks familiar to a native Utahn like me. What was less familiar this weekend as I drove south to attend Utah’s inauguration ceremony was the digital highway signs that read: “Thank you Gov Herbert. Safe travels.”
I passed one sign, then another. By the third sign I was moved to tweet from my phone (my husband was driving): “We honor your service #GovHerbert.”
The Spencer J. Cox administration begins where the Gary R. Herbert administration ended — a well-managed state, led with integrity and honor, grappling with the most serious public health and economic crisis in more than a century. I add my voice to the many who thank Gov. Herbert for his long, distinguished and honorable service.
The mantle now shifts to Gov. Cox, Utah’s first Generation X governor. Cox brings new ideas and different sensibilities to the job at a time when his talent, upbringing and core values will not just be an asset to the Beehive State, but a bright spot for increased civility and goodness on the national stage. I break it down like this.
I expect Cox to govern with many of the same priorities as earlier governors — fiscal restraint, integrity in office and mainstream conservatism. But you can now add to this list characteristics of a Gen Xer. He’s more informal, brilliant on social media, highly educated and inclusive by nature.
The most important emphasis of his administration will be his aspiration to achieve what he referred to in his inaugural address as civic charity. By quoting John Winthrop, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr., Cox made clear he will govern with a backdrop of Christian charity and our commonly held “bonds of affection.”
It’s a “charity for all” approach that he shares with his lieutenant governor, Deidre Henderson, who took her oath of office in a white coat (a symbolic gesture to many women) and firmly declared in her speech, “I want to assure all Utahns that there is a place at the table for you.”
In the Cox world we have seen, heard and felt civic charity.
We saw it in the campaign when Cox visited every Utah city, performed service projects and filmed a public service announcement touting civility with his opponent.
We heard it when he provided comfort at an LGBTQ event after the Orlando nightclub shooting. He mourned with those who mourned.
We witnessed it after he was elected when he asked political competitors to serve on his transition committee and appointed diverse voices to his cabinet.
And, we heard it emphasized in his inaugural address this week when he warned about hateful rhetoric, the crisis of empathy and the scourge of contempt seen in our country. He warned, “Contempt rots our souls.”
In Cox’s final public remarks before the Republican primary, he foreshadowed the ideals of a Cox administration. He said, “What started as a campaign, turned into a cause. We’ve joined together with our shared hopes for what Utah can be at its best … it’s about the good that comes from doing things together as ONE UTAH.”
This appeal for unity and clarion call for goodness stands in stark contrast to what we see taking place in governance right now in this country. The rancor, the division, the dangerous posturing with our election system, and the challenge to democratic norms should scare us all.
Which is why I believe Gov. Cox will not just lead the Beehive State with distinction, he will emerge as a national leader by sharing Utah’s civic charity with others and inviting them to follow.
He pledged in taking the oath of office that “my family and I pledge our hearts and our hands to you.” Gratefully, we can all look forward to what these hearts and hands will do not just for Utah, but for a nation in deep need of public service like his.
Natalie Gochnour is an associate dean in the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah and chief economist for the Salt Lake Chamber.