On the evening of Monday, July 29, an RV painted green and yellow pulled into the parking lot between the food pantry and the tennis courts in downtown Tremonton.
It was the 68th stop out of nearly 250 around the state for the vehicle, which sported a 10-foot-tall image of a smiling man on the side. On the back was a list of nearly 250 municipalities, a quarter of them sporting little heart-shaped stickers next to their names, indicating the places where the tour bus had already been.
The beaming face on the side of the vehicle is that of Spencer Cox, Utah’s lieutenant governor for the past six years. With the support of the state’s current chief executive behind him, Cox is hoping to win the state’s top job in the 2020 election, and he’s spending the summer traveling to nearly every far-flung corner of Utah to meet with locals and explain why he wants and deserves the job.
Cox, along with his wife Abby and daughter Emma Kate, spent the better part of two days last week visiting towns throughout Box Elder County as part of a tour of every incorporated city and town in Utah – 248 in all.
“It’s been incredible,” Cox said during his visit to the food pantry, where he learned about the role it plays in the community from director Cathy Newman, and even helped stock some product. He met with city officials, residents and anyone else who wanted to stop by, shaking hands and talking one-on-one with anyone who wanted to.
“We’ve met some of the best people in the world right here that we would never have gotten to know otherwise,” Cox said.
He said the only way to learn what people need and want in the state is to go where they live and see it firsthand – an extension of his political belief that decisions that affect local people are best left in the hands of local people.
As someone who grew up in the rural Utah town of Fairview but has also spent years living in the urban center of the Wasatch Front, Cox feels he is uniquely positioned to fill the governor’s seat.
Cox said his boss, Gov. Gary Herbert, approached him a few months ago with the news that he wouldn’t be running for another term. Herbert asked Cox if he would be interested in running, outlining why he thought Cox would be an ideal candidate.
“He said we’ve never had a rural governor who has also lived and worked in urban Utah,” Cox said. “We’ve never had someone who’s been a city councilman, mayor, county commissioner, been in the state house of representatives and lieutenant governor, and then run a private business for 10 years. All those things combined, I think, have given me a very unique perspective. I understand how all those things intertwine.”
Along with helping to lift up communities around the state that are struggling, especially in rural areas, Cox said his top priority if elected will be to manage the tremendous growth the state has been experiencing in recent years.
“It’s very different than when Governor Herbert became governor in 2009, we were in the depths of the great recession,” he said. “We are now in the middle of the longest period of prosperity in our state’s history, and with that comes this new set of challenges. How do we manage the growth in such a way that our children and grandchildren can afford to live here?”
He said that challenge is becoming a reality in Box Elder County, perhaps more than anywhere else in Utah.
“Box Elder is at the forefront of that because the expansion, the pressure we’re seeing on the four big Wasatch Front counties, is now pushing here,” he said.
He said he has considered running for Congress, a thought he entertained when former Sen. Orrin Hatch announced his retirement, but feels he can help the country better by staying in Utah.
“I think we can be an example to the rest of the nation,” he said. “I believe the innovation and solutions are going to come from the state level.”
Cox knows it could be a tough campaign ahead, with well-known national names like Jon Huntsman, Jr. and Rob Bishop possibly positioning themselves for a run at the office. However, he said, his message has resounded with locals in every town he has visited so far.
“We’re seeing a momentum of positivity that’s really unique in our country right now where there’s so much negativity,” he said. “We believe that’s a message that will carry the day, together with the innovative policy ideas that we’re working on. We feel really good about our chances against anybody.”