Utah Gov. Spencer Cox says he’s not mad at state lawmakers for passing controversial position statements on critical race theory and guns this week — even though he previously discouraged them from taking action on the hot-button topics.
During a wide-ranging news conference Thursday, the governor also told reporters that mandatory water restrictions are probable this summer — and that he would explore limiting fireworks, during what he expects to be a severe drought and fire season.
Cox appeared on PBS Utah the day after state lawmakers met in a special session to spend more than $500 million in federal funds and approve bills on masks in schools and redistricting.
They also passed resolutions on making the state a Second Amendment sanctuary and prohibiting critical race theory in schools, two issues that Cox intentionally excluded from his call for a special session.
However, Cox said the nonbinding statements align with his proposal for a measured review of both topics before legislators pass new laws on them.
“There’s nothing really controversial in them,” he said of the resolutions.
The statement on critical race theory encourages the Utah State Board of Education to review the state’s public school curriculum to make sure it doesn’t teach that any race is superior or inferior, that anyone should experience racial discrimination or that a person’s character is tied to his or her race.
The state school board is already taking stock of this curriculum, although education leaders have found no indication that critical race theory is embedded in it or is being taught in Utah classrooms, he said. Still, with a multitude of different ideas about what critical race theory is, the state’s public education system could benefit by clarifying and “making it easier for for our teachers and our local school boards who are also getting these same questions.”
“So that we can say definitively what is being taught and what is not being taught,” he said.
While Cox doesn’t believe K-12 students in the state should learn critical race theory, he said he would be concerned about banning any ideas from a university setting.
State leaders debated critical race theory this week following a campaign coordinated by Utah Parents United, which has also pushed to eradicate mask mandates in Utah schools. Democratic lawmakers protested the resolutions by walking out of the House chamber and accused their GOP colleagues of “pandering to their base” by pushing through the statement despite a lack of evidence that the theory is present in Utah schools.
However, Cox said it’s important to respond to constituent concerns — even misguided ones — by dealing with them and providing accurate information.
“What I will say ... is that we would all be better off if people would stop watching cable news,” he said, joking that he’s “eight years sober.”
Fox News has heavily covered critical race theory, mentioning it 235 times in April alone, according to the left-leaning Media Matters for America.
“I would just encourage more and more people to turn that off and to talk to real people about the issues around you, not listening to the talking heads who make their money by making you outraged,” he said. “It’s unhealthy personally, and it’s certainly unhealthy for our democratic republic.”
Cox went on to defend his own appearances on Fox News and CNN, saying he sees himself as a “voice of reason in a sea of anger and contempt.”
More drought restrictions coming?
Also during the Thursday news conference, Cox warned that the state is heading into “one of the worst drought and potentially worst fire seasons that we’ve ever seen.”
Water districts in different parts of the state will likely have to impose mandatory drought restrictions, and Cox said he would be willing to consider limiting fireworks if the dry weather continues. He would work with the Legislature before imposing any restriction on fireworks, he said.
Cox in March declared a statewide drought emergency asking all Utahns to conserve on water, and the Legislature this week extended that state of emergency through the end of October.
The governor also said he’s in talks with legislative leaders about a “long-term conservation push” to make sure the state has the water it needs to support its booming growth.
“We will be proposing and looking at new water resources,” he said. “But also significant changes in the way we develop and the way we’re careful with water.”