Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at an open forum beside Utah Tech President Richard B. Williams, St. George, Utah, Oct. 6, 2022 | Photo by Truman Burgess, St. George News
ST. GEORGE — Utah Gov. Spencer J. Cox discussed water conservancy, partisan animosity in America, ethical news sources, suicide in Utah, Utah Tech University’s name change and affordable housing during a Thursday event in St. George.
Addressing Utah Tech students, staff and community members in an open forum facilitated by Utah Tech President Richard B. Williams, the public forum consisted of Cox responding to written questions submitted by Utah Tech students at the beginning of the meeting.
Cox said the purpose of his traveling political tour is “to meet with as many people and organizations as possible,” including high school students, college campuses, business organizations, medical professionals and chambers of commerce.
Cox’s comments about specific topics are outlined by topic in the sections below.
“Water is a big deal everywhere in the state of Utah,” Cox said. “This is the question I get asked most. Water is foundational for our survival … We have to use less across the board.
“I believe that weather is cyclical and the climate is changing … All I know is I have to deal with what we have right now, and right now … the Great Salt Lake is drying up, and there is not enough water in the Colorado river or in Lake Powell for what we want to do here.”
Regarding solutions, the governor spoke about the Lake Powell pipeline and delegating most of the water conservancy to local levels.
“I’ve been very clear, and I know this is controversial, but I’m on record as supporting the late Lake Powell pipeline.
“The question is, if the pipeline takes longer, if it’s delayed, what does that look like? If we can get it built and we have all the resources, what does that look like? That’s not up to us. There are other decision makers that have to weigh in on that.
“The concrete (solutions) I expect to come from Washington County,” Cox told St. George News. “Our job is to support. You guys know better. Obviously, the conservation piece is really important, and you’re doing that.”
Cox reemphasized his commitment to supporting Southern Utah.
“St. George is not an island on its own,” Cox said. “You are a part of the state of Utah, even if you feel like you’re a couple hundred miles away from Salt Lake City. This is a Utah problem, and we are committed to work with you to solve the problem.”
Reducing housing costs
Cox said supply rates of housing in Utah need to increase if Utahns want housing costs to decrease.
“If we can’t build houses, we can’t have people live here,” Cox said. “I will tell you right now what will happen. The only people that will end up living in St. George are billionaires in California. That’s what will happen if we can’t continue to build.”
Voter fraud and public transportation
Addressing concerns about voter fraud, Cox said he joins Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) in supporting the integrity of Utah’s elections and county clerk offices, and he invited anyone doubtful of the elections to ask a county clerk for a tour and explanation about the election process.
The governor also spoke about how he hopes public transportation increases across the state.
“My biggest dream in life,” he said, “and I know it’s a long ways out — would be a high-speed rail from Salt Lake to St. George.”
Cox spent a significant amount of the forum discussing what he described as animosity between political parties in the United States.
“We have to get back to a time,” Cox said, “when we were willing to see each other as Americans first and partisans second.
“Politics for too many people has become their religion. There are fewer Americans now attending church regularly than any time in our country’s history. If we don’t have those things that bring us together as a community and politics become our religion, then anybody that disagrees with us is equal to a heretic.”
Cox said social, philanthropic clubs like Rotary Club used to be highly active and filled with members for the betterment of local communities, but now these organizations lack community volunteers. Social media is replacing those groups, Cox said, and social media allows individuals to collectively hate others without producing healthy communities.
“I’m not interested in ‘owning’ the libs,” Cox said. “I’m interested in trying to convince the libs that there’s a different way, a better way. Many will disagree with me, but if I can at least start having a conversation and listening to them, then I have an opportunity to show them why I believe what I believe, and they’re more likely to listen and respect that. I think that’s how we fix politics.”
Advice for Generation Z
Following a question from Williams about the upcoming generation’s involvement with politics, Cox spoke directly to Generation Z in the room.
“I’m so worried that our children are so cynical,” he said. “You’re being led to believe that this is the worst time in the history of the world, that we’re all going to die because of … war, climate change. These are serious issues, but you think it’s the worst economy ever. There’s never been a better time in the history of the world to live in Utah.
“Don’t let anyone tell you the world is worse today,” Cox said. “The world is in a great place. We have stuff to fix, and we can fix it together … We can solve every single problem that we’ve ever faced. There are more jobs available right now than ever before in our state’s history.”
The governor spoke plainly about his thoughts about mainstream news media.
“Cable media is evil,” Cox said. “CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, — they’re all evil. They are trying to brainwash you. They have psychologists that help them program this stuff to get you addicted to … contempt. It is addicting.”
Cox spoke of how a close family member of his constantly consumed mainstream news and became overtly negative about life until the family member stopped being “addicted to outrage coming through cable news.”
“Once he got away from that,” Cox said, “he started seeing joy again, started loving people again, started seeing how much good there is in the world.”
“The best decision I ever made was nine years ago, we turned off cable news. I’m nine years sober.”
Instead of listening and watching mainstream news commentary, Cox said, Utahns should draw information from local news and hard, factual newscasting in mainstream sources.
“What I encourage you to do is to look at sources from different points of view,” he said.
The institution of the family
Cox explained how American trust in institutions is at an all-time low in the country, and he’s concerned most about the institution of the family.
“If you look at all of the problems that we face as a society — homelessness, drug addiction, mental health … our prison population — all of these societal problems, the best place to get upstream from that is when we have strong families, resilient families. So I created the first Office of Family.”
Cox expressed his concern that Utah’s birth rate has decreased to 1.9 births per female, which is below state replacement rate
“That’s happening across the United States as marriage rates are declining, and sometimes the government makes it worse.
“We want to make sure we have policies that support families that uplift families and help families through difficult times, because if we can do that, we’ll save billions of dollars of taxpayer money … and we’ll have happier people.
Cox explained how Utah used to not offer maternity leave to mothers, but now the state offers three weeks of maternity leave.
“I would like to get more than that, but maternity leave is one area where we could help families. We need to be more thoughtful, especially in light of the DOPS decision and the changes with abortion to make sure we’re supporting mothers, especially single mothers, supporting families and helping them do what they want to do.”
Utah Tech name change
At the conclusion of his remarks, Cox spoke about Utah Tech’s recent name change from Dixie State University.
“I actually completely understand and feel the passion of those who were opposed to the name change,” he said. “My reasoning for being willing to support the name change is not the race piece of that. I know that’s gotten a lot of publicity. I don’t think that that’s especially helpful.
“As I traveled around the country, and any time Dixie came up, there was mass confusion, like, ‘Wait a minute, is that in Georgia?’ I would get asked that all the time.
“I realized there was a real ceiling to what this could be because names matter in branding … now that I’ve seen it and experienced it, it’s awesome, and I’m having conversations I never got to have before … I know that doesn’t satisfy people, and I don’t expect you to agree with that at all.”
Suicide in Utah
After the public forum, Cox spoke to Utah Tech’s Political Institute behind closed doors and answered their personal questions. One student asked Cox about Utah’s efforts to reduce state suicides.
“We’ve been working really hard over the past six years now to bring those rates down and get additional resources,” Cox said. “We have a new resource center that will be built here in Washington County that will help people that are suffering from people that are suffering from acute mental illness, people who are suicidal.”
He also mentioned the SafeUT app that provided immediate digital resources for suicide prevention. The app provides immediate contact for free to a mental health professional.
“I think the numbers are really scary right now,” Cox said. “When I was a teenager, my parents got divorced and I was a victim of bullying, and I struggled a little bit. I had suicidal thoughts for several months. I thought that maybe the world would be better without me. I’m so glad I stayed. I promise you it gets better.”
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