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Utah’s incoming governor taps state senator for key economic post

Senate Majority Whip Dan Hemmert to lead GOED; former Utah Rep. Sophia DiCaro to head budget office

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, GOP nominee for governor, speaks during a press conference outside of the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. On Monday, Cox and his running mate, state Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, were declared the winners in the GOP gubernatorial primary.
Gov.-elect Spencer Cox
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Gov.-elect Spencer Cox and Lt. Gov.-elect Deidre Henderson announced on Wednesday another batch of appointments to their administration, including familiar faces from Utah’s Legislature and the current governor’s office.

Cox and Henderson nominated state Senate Majority Whip Dan Hemmert, a Republican from Orem, to become director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. They also appointed former Rep. Sophia DiCaro, a Republican from West Valley City, to serve as senior adviser and executive director of the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget.

Hemmert, owner of the northern Utah retail dry cleaning chain Red Hanger Cleaners, has represented Senate District 14 since 2016. He will step down from those positions if his appointment is approved by the Senate, according to Cox’s news release. If approved, he’ll replace Gov. Gary Herbert’s current executive director of GOED, Val Hale, who has served in the post since 2014.

Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, applauded Hemmert’s appointment in a prepared statement issued Wednesday.

“Sen. Hemmert is one of the most decent human beings and public servants I’ve had the honor of working with,” Adams said. “Dan has been an outstanding majority whip, senator, colleague and friend, always collaborating to find the best policy for all Utahns. I’m very proud of our work, especially this past year, as he led the Public Health and Economic Emergency Commission providing essential COVID-19 input and recommendations.”

Adams said lawmakers will miss Hemmert in the Legislature.

“I’m confident that he will continue to work tirelessly to deliver positive results for Utahns and our great state in his new role,” Adams said.

He also encouraged the Utah County Republican Party to “promptly fill the upcoming vacancy and submit a name to the governor to ensure constituents of District 14 are represented during the upcoming general session.”

DiCaro, who was defeated by Democrat Rep. Elizabeth Weight for the House District 31 seat in 2016, is currently chief compliance officer for Salt Lake City-based investment company The Cynosure Group and is a part-time appointed member of Utah’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission. She previously worked as deputy director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development under Herbert.

Four familiar faces from Herbert’s office are slated for assignments in Cox’s administration.

• Pamela Atkinson, a longtime community advocate for the homeless who has served as an adviser for Herbert and two governors before him, will stay on as an adviser for Cox.

• Gordon Larsen, who has served as Herbert’s director of federal affairs and director of policy, was tapped to serve as Cox’s senior adviser for federal affairs. He will also continue to play an active role in Utah’s COVID-19 response, according to Cox’s news release.

• Herbert’s current deputy chief of staff, Mike Mower, will serve as senior adviser of community outreach and intergovernmental affairs to oversee boards and commissions, constituent services, relations with counties, cities and towns, nonprofits, faith groups and other grassroots entities.

• Karen Peterson, who is currently Herbert’s education adviser, will become legislative liaison to work with Henderson to lead the administration’s legislative efforts.

Cox also picked Brittney Cummins, who has served as a member of the Utah State Board of Education since 2014, to serve as senior education adviser, with a focus on equity in educational opportunity.

In addition, the incoming governor appointed Stephen Lisonbee as senior adviser of rural affairs. His appointment seeks to fulfill “a campaign promise to raise the profile of rural issues within the Cox administration,” Cox’s news release states. In addition to his new role, Lisonbee will keep his current position as assistant vice president of the Office of Regional Services at Southern Utah University and continue to live in LaVerkin in Washington County.

Henderson picked Jen Robinson, who was an adviser for Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton, to serve as her chief of staff.

“We’ve recruited some of the best and brightest Utahns to join us as we strengthen our schools, our rural towns and the overall quality of life here in Utah,” Cox said in a prepared statement. “We welcome these fine individuals to public service and we’re grateful to have them on the team.”

The appointments join other key administration members Cox announced last month, including Cox’s chief of staff Jon Pierpont, who previously served as director of Utah’s Department of Workforce Services, and former Salt Lake Tribune Editor Jennifer Napier-Pearce, who Cox picked to lead as a senior adviser and communications director.

The incoming administration is expected to announce more staff and Cabinet appointments in coming weeks.

Cox and Henderson, along with other statewide elected officials, are slated to be sworn in Jan. 4.