Gov. Gary Herbert announced Tuesday he is nominating freshman state Rep. Spencer Cox, a former county commissioner and mayor, to serve as his lieutenant governor.
“It’s not an easy job. It’s not an easy assignment. There’s a lot of work involved,” Herbert said. “There’s nobody I believe that can do that better at this current time with the current circumstances we face than Spencer Cox.”
Cox, 38, an attorney and executive in CentraCom, a rural Utah telecommunications company, earned his bachelor’s degree from Utah State University and his law degree from Washington and Lee School of Law in Virginia.
“I recognize the immense responsibility of this position. The mantle weighs very heavy,” Cox said. He expressed the desire to not just see the state recover from the recession but help guide it into “a new era of economic prosperity.”
He was elected to the state House last year. He was previously mayor of Fairview and served on the Sanpete County Commission.
“This administration represents all Utahns everywhere,” Cox said, “and I hope to bring energy and passion and perspective to the administration.”
Cox’s selection was a surprise to many, who assumed Herbert would pick one of his trusted advisers or possibly a more senior member of the Legislature.
“I think it’s a fabulous choice,” said House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo. “I don’t think shocked is the right word, but I was pleasantly surprised at who the governor chose. He’s only been in the House for a little while, but he’s very well respected and he has a great mind when it comes to policy and issues.”
Lockhart said that, in addition to having a good relationship with the Legislature, his experience at the city and county levels would be valuable experience on those fronts.
The speaker said that Cox was a member listened to by colleagues — despite being a freshman.
“He’s one of those members that people know his abilities as an attorney and also as a businessman,” Lockhart said, “so when he does rise to speak to an issue, people listen to what he has to say and that’s a sign of respect.”
Cox still must be confirmed by the Senate. A hearing has been scheduled for Tuesday, with the confirmation likely the following day.
“When people get to know Spencer Cox around this state,” Herbert said, “they’re going to say, ‘Wow, I understand why the governor picked him to be his lieutenant governor.’ ”
If confirmed, Cox will replace Lt. Gov. Greg Bell, who announced his retirement last month, citing financial strains.
Cox would take the helm of the office that oversees the enforcement of state elections laws and is currently in the midst of an investigation into whether Attorney General John Swallow violated state campaign-finance laws.
Cox was the first member of the House to call for the impeachment of the Republican attorney general after a months-long barrage of allegations of misconduct. In doing so, Cox wrote a long explanation of his position that Herbert acknowledged “most anyone would read and find pretty compelling.”
Bell, who launched the investigation, said Cox would have to decide for himself whether he needed to recuse himself from the inquiry. The office has hired a special counsel, who is expected to submit a report by year’s end.
Bell said Cox — with whom he served as co-chairman of the governor’s Rural Partnership Board — was on the list of names that he sent to the governor.
Herbert described Cox as “a shorter version of Greg Bell” and said he hopes he brings much the same perspective to the job.
“He has that good legal mind and background and has that demeanor that is optimistic and bright,” Herbert said. “He brings people together, they just like hanging around him.”
Cox said he considers Bell to be a role model for his political service.
“Many times I’ve asked myself, ‘What would Greg Bell do?’ and suspect I’ll ask myself that in days and weeks to come,” Cox said.
Cox lives in Fairview with his wife and four children. He enjoys running, hiking and camping and played bass in a garage band called UpSide.