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Are Utah Republicans mad at Gov. Cox for transgender veto? Let political chips fall, he says

‘If you’re governing to keep your poll numbers up, then you’re not leading,” Gov. Spencer Cox says of Tucker Carlson rant

SHARE Are Utah Republicans mad at Gov. Cox for transgender veto? Let political chips fall, he says
Gov. Spencer Cox speaks during his monthly news conference at PBS Utah at the Eccles Broadcast Center.

Gov. Spencer Cox speaks during his monthly news conference at PBS Utah at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, April 21, 2022.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Gov. Spencer Cox received a wave of negative national attention when Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson used a misleading and edited video as part of a tirade earlier this month against the Utah Republican for, among other things, sharing his preferred pronouns in an online conversation with high school students.

But the governor — even though his own party’s chairman, Carson Jorgensen, joined Carlson’s April 11 program to say Cox is out of step with GOP delegates — said he’s not concerning himself with the political consequences.

Asked Thursday during his monthly PBS Utah news conference how he thinks Carlson and Jorgensen’s comments might impact him politically, Cox said, “Oh, you know, I don’t know, nor do I care to be perfectly honest.”

Cox noted that he wrote in his veto letter he knew there would be “political repercussions” for his action on the bill passed by the Utah Legislature that bans transgender girls from competing in female schools sports, which lawmakers swiftly overrode and tweaked to address some of his concerns.

“That’s how it works. And that’s OK. But I try to do the right thing for the right reasons, regardless of the consequences. And I will continue to do that,” Cox said.

The governor added he believes “most Utahns admire that, even if they disagree ... that we’re not always just pandering” or making decisions based off of poll results or whatever talking heads on cable news say they should do.

“That’s making us dumber as a society,” Cox said. “We can have disagreements and we can have deep thought.”

Cox said transgender sports “is a very difficult issue,” but he’s been “pleasantly surprised” by how many people read his entire, 4 12 page veto letter, in which he empathized with the four transgender Utah students the ban would impact. He said of the people he’s talked to about the veto, “99%” said they understood why he made the decision he did, even if they disagreed with him.

“I would also point out that 100% of Republicans in our Legislature agreed with me that that law was screwed up and they had to fix it, and they did,” Cox said, referring to changes lawmakers made to the bill to address legal liability concerns.

‘Whatever happens ... happens’

Cox said it’s “frustrating” the public sphere tends to “focus on stuff that doesn’t matter as much as we think it does.” He said his team did “incredible things” in partnership with the Utah Legislature this year, but one bill — the transgender sports ban — overshadowed it all.

“There were 513 pieces of legislation that passed, some amazing things that would surprise Utahns, blow their minds, big things that impact their daily lives ... that they never heard about and probably will never hear about,” Cox said.

“Conversely there was one bill that I didn’t like, and everyone knows about that bill ... and it impacted four people,” he said.

Above all, Cox said he’s not concerned with the fallout from his veto or the Carlson segment.

“Look, if our polling numbers go down a little bit, that’s what happens. That’s part of government. If you’re just governing to keep your poll numbers up, then you’re not leading,” he said. “So we’re going to continue to govern and do the things that we feel are right and best for the state of Utah, and whatever happens in 2 12 years happens.”

Cox has said he does intend to run for reelection in 2024. On Thursday, he told reporters he stands by his pledge to only serve two terms. Asked if he expects to face a primary challenger, he said he doesn’t know.

“That’s so far away,” he said. “I’ve still got a couple of years before I have to worry or think about that.”

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Gov. Spencer Cox speaks during his monthly news conference at PBS Utah at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, April 21, 2022.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Cox said his administration is focused on changing state government to be “much more responsive to the people”

“And we’re getting there. It takes time. It’s like turning a giant ship,” he said. “But we’re just hitting our stride, and it’s going to take us eight years to get everything accomplished that we promised we would accomplish. But we are well on our way, and I would love the opportunity to finish the job.”

Cox may be right to shrug off whether his veto or Carlson’s negative segments will have any significant impact on him politically.

At the end of his first year as governor, a solid 60% of Utahns approved of Cox’s job performance, according to a Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll conducted last November.

The most recent Deseret News/Hinckley Institute poll, which was conducted April 5-12, the same week Carlson’s show aired, found Cox’s approval rating has only slightly dipped since the November poll — with 58% of Utahns who approve and 31% who disapprove of his job performance.

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The poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.46 percentage points. The survey however, might not have captured all of Utahns’ reactions to the segment with Jorgensen that aired the evening of April 11.

“I’ve spent the last six weeks out with the county conventions, and there’s a lot of people that are really upset with what’s happening. And I don’t know if I’d call it buyer’s remorse, but this kind of woke ideology is where we have to be careful,” Jorgensen told Carlson on the show.

Cox not attending state GOP convention

The last time Cox appeared before Utah Republican Party delegates during their 2021 state convention, he was booed along with Sen. Mitt Romney.

Both Cox, who has been an outspoken ally for LGBTQ issues, and Romney, whovoted to impeach former President Donald Trump, have taken at times moderate approaches to conservative wedge issues — moves that have frustrated some of the far-right wings of Utah’s GOP.

Asked if he’s concerned about whether he would receive a chilly reception at this year’s GOP convention on Saturday, Cox said he’s “not concerned at all” given he said he’s been received warmly by delegates at several recent county conventions.

However, Cox said he actually won’t be attending due to a planned trade mission to Mexico this weekend.

“Sadly, and I feel terrible about this, I actually won’t be able to attend Saturday — not because I don’t want to. It’s the exact opposite,” Cox said. “We’ve actually had a trade mission to Mexico scheduled for over a year. It’s been canceled three times because of COVID.”

Cox said the trade mission was previously scheduled at the beginning of April but “it got bumped to this week.” Cox said he’s “excited” to go since it will be his first trade mission as governor, “but very sad I won’t be able to be there with the delegates.”

Cox did note, however, that Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson will attend the convention in his stead, “and I anticipate that she will be well received as well.”