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Gov.-elect Spencer Cox announces his picks for agriculture commissioner, top energy adviser

The incoming administration will also keep a number of Gov. Gary Herbert’s senior staffers.

(Steve Griffin | Deseret News, pool) Gov.-elect Spencer Cox announces details related to the upcoming transition of leadership in the Gold Room at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020.

Gov.-elect Spencer Cox announced another round of senior Cabinet and staff picks Monday, choosing the executive director of the Utah Clean Air Partnership as his top energy adviser and the Cache County executive as the next commissioner of the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food.

The Utah Senate will have to confirm many of the 19 new appointees picked by Cox, who’s working to fill out his administration ahead of his Jan. 4 inauguration.

“After a thorough interview process, I’m convinced each of these candidates will serve the citizens of Utah exceptionally well,” Cox said in a prepared statement. “Each has impeccable qualifications, brings fresh ideas and, most importantly, is devoted to public service. We’re lucky to have such brilliant minds willing to serve the public.”

Cox named Thom Carter, head of the Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR), as executive director of the Governor’s Office of Energy Development and Cache County Executive Craig Buttars as the next leader of the agriculture and food department.

Carter said Jan. 4 will be his last day with UCAIR, where he has worked for more than three years. He expects to begin his job with the state the following day and said he’s excited to learn more about Cox’s vision for the coming four years.

“The next decade is going to be pivotal,” Carter said. “And the opportunity to work with [Cox] and serve in a capacity like that, I thought would be great.”

Buttars, a dairy farmer and former state representative, said he was surprised by the job offer from the Cox administration but is eager to get to work on Jan. 5.

“I just did not feel like I could turn down this opportunity,” he said. “I have a great amount of respect for Spencer Cox, and I think he’s putting together a great team.”

Cox also nominated:

  • Sanpete County Sheriff Brian Nelson to lead the Utah Department of Corrections.

  • St. George Mayor Jon Pike, a health care administrator, to head up the Utah Insurance Department.

  • Cedar Hills Mayor Jenney Rees as executive director of the Utah Department of Administrative Services.

  • Margaret Busse, a social impact adviser and adjunct professor at Brigham Young University, as head of the Utah Department of Commerce.

  • Tracy Gruber, who now directs the Office of Child Care and serves as senior adviser for the Intergenerational Poverty Initiative, as executive director of the Utah Department of Human Services.

  • Casey Cameron, currently the interim director of the Utah Department of Workforce Services, to lead the department permanently.

  • Rich Saunders, currently the interim executive director of the Utah Department of Health, to lead the department permanently.

The Monday release also stated that Cox has chosen Nubia Peña, the current director of the Division of Multicultural Affairs, to serve as his senior adviser on equity and opportunity. Kirsten Rappleye, who worked as Cox’s chief of staff during his time as lieutenant governor, will now take charge of initiatives for first lady Abby Cox. Shelly Smith, former director of business development for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, will become Utah’s director of boards and commissions.

The appointments of Carter, Peña, Rappleye and Smith do not require Senate approval, according to the news release.

Cox will also keep many of outgoing Gov. Gary Herbert’s senior staff, including: Public Safety Commissioner Jess Anderson; Carlos Braceras, head of the Utah Department of Transportation; Gary Harter, executive director of the Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs; Jill Remington Love, executive director of the Department of Heritage and Arts; Utah Labor Commissioner Jaceson Maughan; Ed Leary, commissioner of the Utah Department of Financial Institutions; and Brian Steed, executive director of the Department of Natural Resources.


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