On Monday, Utah celebrated its 125th anniversary of statehood. Perhaps in a convergence of past and future, the state also marked the day with the inauguration of Spencer J. Cox as Utah’s 18th governor and Deidre M. Henderson as lieutenant governor. The new administration represents a passing of the baton to the next generation of leaders.
In their inaugural addresses, both Cox and Henderson looked back at the history of the state of Utah and America for inspiration, guidance and principles to propel Utah for another 125 years.
Gov. Cox referred to early descriptions of the difficult terrain of Utah that would toughen the people and galvanize them to create farms, towns and cities.
“The very thing that has made this land so beautiful over the millions of years of its history has largely come from those harsh, often unexpected moments in time when ferocious rains beat down or hurricane-force winds blow, and the earth shakes,” he said.
The newly minted governor also described Utah as a model for civility and civic engagement: “Hateful rhetoric dominates our political discourse. We are facing a crisis of empathy; a scourge of contempt.” He went on to say, “Conflict and passionate debate around ideas can be healthy, but contempt and contention will rot the souls of our nation and her people. And this division isn’t just ugly or unfortunate. It’s dangerous.”
For her remarks, the first ever delivered at an inauguration by a lieutenant governor, Henderson spoke of William Bradford and the notion that great difficulties require great “answerable courage.” She went on to showcase how such courage had driven the state and its people to great success. Henderson also called for answerable courage to make sure women, minorities and rural citizens have a seat at the table and a voice in decisions.
Former governors Leavitt, Huntsman and Herbert looked on as the reigns of power were passed to the new administration. Beginning in 1993, the three, absent the late Olene Walker who led the state from 2003-2005, have shaped what Utah is today. Each faced challenges, made advancements, learned lessons and took advantage of opportunities to advance the state and its people.
The former governors share a love of Utah and a belief that the heritage and shared values of the state make it unique among the United States, poised with a promising future. They also know the hard work and heavy lifting required to use principles to fashion sound public policy and future planning. A sense of the important, but not easy, decisions awaiting the new administration could be seen in the faces of those who occupied the governor’s office in the past. Each seemed to also be sharing a confidence-creating look to the future and a hope of good things to come.
There is work to do. The impact of the pandemic will continue to be felt not only in public health and the public health care policy. The economic devastation crushing small businesses in the state is yet to be fully understood and addressed. Transportation, air quality, homelessness, addiction, education, suicide and criminal justice reform will also require immediate and sustained attention.
The tone and tenor of the new administration reflect a Utah model of elevated dialogue and respect. Now the governor and his team will need to take Utah’s heritage and principles to guide the policies necessary to deal with the difficulties of the day and meet the rendezvous with destiny that Cox described.
We join him in saying, “We will succeed together as one Utah. Let’s go.”