SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – It’s been 100 days since Spencer J. Cox assumed office as the 18th Governor of Utah.
“I think the governor and the lieutenant governor could not be more pleased,” Governor Cox’s director of communications Jennifer Napier-Pearce tells ABC4. “Obviously COVID-19 is our top priority and that’s taken a lot of time and energy as we’ve talked about testing and mass vaccination, but we’ve made a lot of progress there.”
The Fairview native ran for the top gubernatorial position in the state after spending the previous eight years as Lieutenant Governor to Gary Herbert. He defeated former Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. in the Republican primary before beating out Democratic nominee Chris Peterson in the general election at the end of 2020.
According to his campaign website, several issues were at the forefront of Cox’s platform. In the wake of the pandemic outbreak, Cox made rebuilding the economy one of his most important priorities. He was also determined to transform Utah’s education system, manage public lands fairly, give rural Utah a voice, in addition to other typical Republican values such as 2nd amendment rights and protecting the right to life.
Shortly into his term as Governor, Cox released his “One Utah Roadmap,” which would serve as his plan for the first 500 days of his office. The governor’s office website describes six key priorities for the administration:
- Economic advancement, including ways the state can develop talent, incentivize businesses, and foster innovation;
- Education innovation and investment, including how the state can recruit and retain quality teachers and focus on at-risk learners;
- Rural matters, including meeting critical infrastructure and policy needs;
- Health security, including fighting COVID-19 and addressing social determinants of health;
- Equality and opportunity, including leading by example to improve racial and gender disparities in state government; and
- State government efficiency, including investing in state employees and implementing changes in structure to become more responsive to the state’s customers, i.e. the residents of Utah.
Here’s a glance at how Cox and his staff have fared in their first 100 days of office and the process they’ve made towards their priorities:
In March, the Governor’s office boasted that Utah had been named the country’s top economy by U.S. News State Rankings 2021. According to the rankings, Utah experienced a job growth rate of 2.5%, which was higher than the national average of 1.4%. The net migration of job seekers to Utah at 0.8% was also greater than the national average of 0.2%.
When announcing his 2022 budget proposal, Cox made note of the fact that government spending had decreased the year meaning there was around $1.2 billion for one-time use available. Cox plans to spend that money on investments to improve the state’s infrastructure and other quality-of-life expenses.
EDUCATION INNOVATION AND INVESTMENT:
In his 2022 budget recommendation, Cox announced that he had allocated $112 million for educator bonuses. Other recommendations included investments in building up computer science skills throughout the state as well as putting money towards technical and trade education programs. Cox also made funding for the Upskilling Initiative, a priority for adults in need of additional education and training, which would help with job placement. The instability caused by the pandemic sparked this recommendation.
A native of a small Utah town, working on rural matters has been very important to Cox. He opened a rural office in Cedar City and signed 56 bills there on March 22.
Earlier, on March 3, Cox announced the creation of 30 new permanent jobs with the Department of Workforce Services, specifically for workers in Utah’s outskirts.
Tackling the COVID-19 pandemic is Cox’s number one priority, as he puts it.
On Feb. 4, Utah surpassed the mark of more vaccines administered than the number of positive tests for COVID-19. Later, on the first day of March, all Utahns over the age of 65 were made eligible for the vaccine. Then on March 24, all individuals 16 and older were allowed to receive the coronavirus vaccine.
There has been some pushback to some of Cox’s COVID-19 response plans. On April 10, Utah’s statewide mask mandate expired and was not renewed. However, some local politicians, including Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, announced that they would continue to have a mandate in their jurisdiction. Private businesses can still require masks for employees and customers while elementary through secondary schools will be requiring masks through the end of the school year.
Cox has also targeted preventing bullying and suicide and improving mental health as pieces to his public health plan. His wife, Abby Cox, recently announced a new mental well-being campaign in rural Wasatch County middle and high schools. Cox also signed into effect HB81, which adds mental or behavioral health as a valid excuse for a school absence.
EQUALITY AND OPPORTUNITY:
Fulfilling his promise to increase racial and gender diversity at the government level, Cox has made a few appropriate appointments. On Feb. 8, he appointed Cristina Ortega to a vacancy on the Second District Court Bench. Ortega received her Juris Doctorate from the University of Utah and also got degrees in Criminal Justice and Latin American Studies/Legal Studies from Weber State.
STATE GOVERNMENT EFFICIENCY:
During the 2021 Utah Legislative Session, Cox signed a total of 464 bills. One notable bill that falls under this priority for Cox was HB 326, which modifies provisions related to government performance reporting and efficiency requirements. This was signed by Cox on March 23.
To celebrate his 100th day in office, Cox, his wife, Abby, and Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson spoke to students in the Morgan School District. The occasion wouldn’t have been complete without a photobomb by the governor.