Gov.-elect Spencer Cox explains his public silence in tiff over Salt Lake City teacher bonuses

Says he’s glad he fought urge to criticize other leaders, allowing emotions to cool to find solution.

(Rick Bowmer AP file photo) Gov.-elect Spencer Cox speaks during a press conference on July 7, 2020. On Saturday, he explained in a long series of tweets his public silence during a tiff this week over whether Salt Lake City school teachers should be excluded from $1,500 state bonuses give to other teachers in the state.

In a series of 14 tweets on Saturday, Republican Gov.-elect Spencer Cox said he’s glad he fought an urge to blast GOP lawmakers on social media this week for initially excluding Salt Lake City teachers from $1,500 state bonuses because they are all teaching online instead of in classrooms.

Cox said that allowed emotions to cool, and helped leaders work out a solution announced on Friday that will allow city students there to return to class in January and February, and ensure that city teachers receive the same bonuses as others in the state.

“The problem is when we forget that good politics is WORK and bad politics is SHOW. Good politics is broccoli. Bad politics is cotton candy,” Cox said, adding that sending out fiery tweets would have been cotton-candy showmanship that may have prevented needed hard work.

Cox, the current lieutenant governor, explained that he had worked closely with the Legislature “on the big announcement” to reward state teachers with a bonus.

“But before the release, my staff was told that [legislative] leadership would likely move to withhold the stipend” from Salt Lake City school teachers to prod that district to return to in-class teaching, he said. House Speaker Brad Wilson did exactly that.

“I have been outspoken about the need for an in-person option and have been working to get that changed,” Cox said. “At the same time, I felt it was a mistake to use the teacher stipend as a means to that end.”

So, he considered firing off some tweets attacking leaders, or making some “snarky” comments about their move.

“A snarky tweet and a terse statement to reporters would have 1) scored points, 2) been really entertaining and 3) accomplished nothing. That was the fun, dopamine, 1,000-retweet, cotton candy option. It’s what we expect now,” he said.

“But here’s the thing, Speaker Brad Wilson is an incredible public servant. He isn’t a bomb thrower and is always willing to work for best outcomes. I knew he wouldn’t make this decision for sport. And so I waited until passions could die down and we could talk. And we did.”

Cox added, “I shared my thoughts and frustrations and he shared his logic and feelings. Ultimately, we came to an understanding and commitment to work to get that money to all teachers and find a way to safely open schools. That’s the broccoli. It’s boring and laborious.”

He said there’s more to the story. He said a key that allowed a compromise are state plans that give high priority to teachers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, so teachers may feel safe in the classroom and the Salt Lake City School District could feel safer in allowing in-class teaching.

“While the stipend was a catalyst for discussion, the biggest driver was that teachers will be vaccinated soon,” Cox said.

“Over the past few weeks we worked hard to make a change to move teachers into the first wave of vaccinations. But the catalyst for that came out of a conversation I had with ... yep ... Speaker Wilson and majority leadership. They care deeply about teachers and deserve credit.”

Cox added, “Why do I share all of this? Because I was very close to doing the easy thing but would have missed an opportunity to build relationships and work to get to the best outcome.”

He said Lt.Gov-elect Deidre Henderson warned him about quickly firing off fiery tweets by saying, “If it feels good, don’t send it.”

So he held off. “Being patient and not assuming the worst is less fun but more productive. And it’s old-fashioned.”

Cox concluded, “Please be patient with me. But more importantly, be patient with each other. Maybe judge more on outcomes than the messy process. Let’s be quick to assume the best and slow to assume the worst. Celebrate the boring. And maybe, just maybe, eat a little more broccoli.”