Saying her husband’s campaign for Utah governor is ‘missing women’s stories,’ Abby Cox kicks off engagement effort

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) Lt. Governor Spencer Cox, joined by his wife Abby, announced Tuesday, May 14, 2019 that he is running for governor.

As Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox has been touring the state for his gubernatorial campaign, his wife, Abby, has been noticing a trend: The people who show up and ask questions at town halls tend to be male.

It’s a problem that goes beyond the campaign and extends to state politics in general, she believes.

"We are missing critical input," Abby Cox said during a Tuesday campaign event. "We are missing women's stories."

The couple gathered outside the state Capitol with dozens of supporters to announce the formation of “Women for Utah,” a group dedicated to putting Cox in the governor’s mansion. The newly formed organization plans to hold meetings for women in each of the state’s 29 counties and gather input to help shape Cox’s campaign platform.

Utah ranks at the bottom for female political participation, and Spencer Cox said the GOP particularly has struggled to connect with women. So, on Tuesday, he outlined his strategy for improving gender equity.

“Gender diversity leads to better decision-making in families, in board rooms and especially in the halls of government,” said Cox, who has five paid campaign staff, three of them women.

His administration would “strive for gender parity” among senior leadership positions, political appointees and members of the state’s roughly 400 boards and commissions, he said. As governor, he would collaborate with organizations that break down barriers for women in science, technology and mathematics fields. And his goal is for Utah to lead the nation in female voter turnout.

Asked in an interview whether he’d select a female running-mate, Cox said he would pick the most qualified person.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if the best person for the job was a woman,” he said.

Though Utah has room for improvement when it comes to female political engagement, Cox argued that the state was once a leader in this arena.

This week marks the 100th anniversary of Utah’s ratification of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote. By the time lawmakers signed off on the amendment, women in the state had long been engaging in Utah politics, both by voting and serving in elected offices, he noted.

Utah passed its first suffrage law in 1870, and while Congress overturned it, the state in the 1890s reaffirmed women’s voting rights, historians Katherine Kitterman and Ronald L. Fox wrote this week in The Salt Lake Tribune.

Martha Hughes Cannon in 1896 defeated her own husband to win a seat in the Utah Legislature, becoming the nation’s first female state senator. And Abby Cox noted that her statue will soon represent Utah in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol, where two figures of historic significance represent each state.

“Even as we celebrate Martha, I am not here to announce my candidacy against my husband,” Abby Cox quipped.

Abby Cox will lead the “Women for Utah” group along with Nina Barnes of Iron County; Jeanette Bennett of Utah County; and South Jordan Mayor Dawn Ramsey, according to a news release.

Cox was the first Republican candidate to announce his candidacy to replace Gov. Gary Herbert in 2020, but the primary field now includes Provo businessman Jeff Burningham.

A Democratic candidate, Zachary Moses, has also declared his candidacy, and several high-profile Republicans are expected or rumored to be preparing campaign launches, including former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton, and former governor Jon Huntsman, who is returning to the state after resigning as U.S. ambassador to Russia.

Editor’s note: Jon Huntsman is the brother of Paul Huntsman, Tribune owner and publisher.