Governor Spencer Cox denounces ‘brazen lies’ about elections and condemns efforts to restrict voter access
Governor Spencer Cox implored Utahns on Thursday not to abandon America’s ideals, saying in his annual state of the state address that he feared “unsubstantiated allegations and outright lies” about elections do not shake the nation to its foundations.
Even those who identify as ardent defenders of freedom and the nation’s system of governance are guilty of actively undermining it, he continued.
“I have heard some claim that the Constitution will one day, if not now, hang by a thread and that it will have to be saved,” he said. “I fear what some of them fail to see is that they – just like those for whom they have such disdain and contempt – are tackling these ropes daily, recklessly believing that they will know exactly when to stop slicing and start saving.”
Cox, who is in his second year in office, cautioned against assuming that vote security must come at the expense of accessibility at the polls.
His comments, delivered to the Utah Legislature, come after lawmakers called for an election integrity audit and as some in the state seek to eliminate mail-in voting. Lieutenant Governor Deidre Henderson, whose office oversees elections in the state, said she was confident in the security of the state’s elections and condemned those who “unnecessarily sow the seeds of doubt”.
Senate Minority Leader Karen Mayne also addressed election misinformation in a pre-recorded response to Cox’s speech.
“Utahans want their electoral system to be fair, secure and accessible, not politicized or unnecessarily and falsely vilified,” said the West Valley Democrat. “We urge the governor and our legislative colleagues to take a stand against extremist voices from a marginal minority and work with us.”
In this time of rancor and division, Cox said the Utahns must set an example for the rest of the nation.
“I firmly believe in my heart that if America is the world’s last great hope, then Utah is America’s last great hope,” he said.
He called on people of color, rural Utahs, Republicans and Democrats not to lose faith in America and its promise, sharing a story about his own ancestor who was brought to Utah by religious persecution.
Although his great-great-great-grandfather Orville Sutherland Cox “had every reason to hate the United States of America”, one of his first acts upon arriving in Utah was to shoot down a giant pine tree to raise a Liberty Pole in Salt Lake City.
“It was the first flagpole to carry the American flag in the Salt Lake Valley,” Cox said.
The governor also addressed the record spike in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Utah, fueled by the highly infectious omicron variant.
Although the state now has one of the highest average daily infection rates in the country, Cox said he was encouraged that its hospitalization rate is among the lowest in the United States. Some of the data, including case rates in Summit County, give hope that the coronavirus outbreak may soon begin to subside, he added.
But he argued that keeping children out of school should not be part of the state’s campaign against the disease.
“Our children need us to be strong,” he said. “They need us to point to a hopeful future. And they need to be at school, in person, face to face with their friends and teachers.
Last week, Cox and legislative leaders announced they were suspending mandatory testing in public schools amid coronavirus outbreaks, in part because of a shortage of testing resources. The Legislature, in its first week in session, moved forward with legislation that would codify this change, ending the so-called Test to Stay program until state leaders choose to reinstate it.
During his last statehood, Cox was a newly inaugurated governor who vowed to hold the Utah Legislature in check with his veto pen. However, in his first year in office, the governor had his emergency powers checked by Utah lawmakers who overturned mask mandates and gave themselves the power to overturn national health orders and local.
And while Democratic lawmakers said they agreed with many of the governor’s priorities, they stressed the importance of following the recommendations of medical and public health experts as the state continues to battle COVID-19.
“We know that masks, testing protocols and social distancing measures work to stop the virus from spreading,” said House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City. “And we know the vaccine requirements are working so businesses can stay open and protect their employees and customers.”
The Utah Way
Cox also focused his speech on protecting and improving Utah’s quality of life, recommending a $160 million grocery tax credit for low- and middle-income families, measures to combat the state’s extreme drought and efforts to reduce the cost of health care.
He also called for swift action to address a growing housing crisis and lack of rural opportunities, warning that these issues could force young people out of Utah.
“If the federal government continues to recklessly spend money borrowed from future generations,” he said, “it is our duty to invest in projects that will benefit our children and grandchildren.
To improve the state’s education system, Cox is proposing additional funding for at-risk and disadvantaged students, the elimination of tuition for required courses, and measures to support 3rd grade reading.
With all that work to do, he said, the state should follow the “Utah way” of tackling the obstacles – fending off the “cynics” who call the slogan corny or hollow and those who turn hard problems into easy binaries.
“Here in Utah, we proudly protect religious freedoms and proudly love and protect our LGBTQ neighbors,” he said. “We protect our unborn children and support our single mothers and children facing poverty and trauma. And we fully support our beloved people of color and our beloved people in law enforcement.
House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said Cox and the Legislative Assembly are largely on the same page “because we’re working from the same conservative foundation.”
And Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said in a statement that he agreed with Cox that “Utah is America’s hope,” despite having different ideas about how to deliver the $160 million in tax relief to residents of the state.
Legislative leaders have expressed interest in an income tax cut rather than a grocery credit.
On the other hand, King spoke out against lowering income taxes, which provides public education in the state.
“Every income tax dollar we reduce, we reduce our investment in our children and future generations,” he said. “Instead of sweeping cuts, let’s support targeted tax proposals for our seniors; for our families; for those on fixed incomes; and most importantly, eliminate the regressive state sales tax on food.