Holly Richardson: Jon Cox offers a quick and interesting read on Utah politics

Jon Cox. Courtesy photo

On Christmas Eve, I got a delightful book in the mail titled “Utah Politics: Principles, Theories and Rules of the Game” by Jon Cox. It could just as easily have been titled “Utah Politics: An Insider’s Guide to Behind-the-Scenes Campaign Strategies and Insider Baseball.”

Former member of the Utah House of Representatives, former county commissioner, former communication director for Gov. Gary Herbert, current vice president of government affairs at Rocky Mountain Power and rumored to be the campaign manager for Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox’s gubernatorial run, Cox knows whereof he speaks.

The book has dozens of mini-chapters — most are only a page or two — with lessons learned from Utah campaigns, both won and lost. In the chapter titled “The Hallelujah Chorus Theory,” he cautions: “It is quite common for friends, lobbyists, and others to privately encourage [an] aspiring politico to consider running for … office. Equally common is how quickly those same friends disappear when that person actually announces their candidacy.”

In the footnotes for that chapter, he adds: “Beware the political insider who assures you privately that they are behind your candidacy but are hesitant to do anything to support you,” an all-too-common occurrence. As my husband reminded me when I was in office, lobbyists (nice as they might be) were paid to be my friends.

There are shout-outs to many of Utah’s politicians — Herbert, Sen. Orrin Hatch, Gov. Scott Matheson, House Speaker Becky Lockhart and more — but there are also shout-outs to some of the people behind the scenes. Kitty Dunn gets props for her boots-on-the-ground strategies, while Michelle Quist gets a shout-out as an excellent speaker and contender in the political arena. Among many others, he mentions Bud Scruggs, Mike Mower and even a couple of reporters: Bob Bernick and Ben Winslow, who are brought up as examples of media doing things well by showing up and paying attention to detail.

I laughed out loud at a couple of his stories. He reminds us of a former legislator who brought his legislative awards to court with him and suggests that pulling rank with “Don’t you know who I am?!” antics is — ahem — inadvisable. And it will end up in the press.

I was duly impressed as well by his inclusion of 2018 election results. That was just last month! He even includes new leadership positions on Utah’s Capitol Hill. Talk about timely.

There are lots of sports analogies, most of which I am unfamiliar with, but then again, if I wrote a political campaign book, it would probably have references to childbirth (from being a midwife) and parenting. I mean really — parents who can handle unruly toddlers are totally prepared for a life in politics, especially political leadership. So are cat herders. But I digress. Plenty here for Utah Jazz fans and some of the college teams as well.

This is largely a feel-good book and some of the happy assertions seem a bit overly optimistic to me, but the book does include some cautionary tales for candidates with oversized egos and more especially for out-of-state consultants who smell money on the table and talk their way onto Utah campaigns. For those folks, nothing pegs you as more of an outsider than misspelling Utahn. (There is no extra A, no matter what spell-check says.) Other no-nos are campaigning on Sunday and Monday nights and hitting too hard. Utah does passive-aggressive really well, but we’re not very tolerant of just plain aggressive. Too many fly-over consultants don’t even try to make sure background photos are of the state where they are campaigning. Plus, Utah has plenty of campaign talent right here.

“Utah Politics” is a quick, easy read. I don’t know who sent it to me, but I do know I enjoyed it. I’m also not sure why Cox wrote it, but I wonder if he is pre-emptively disarming those so-called experts who might have their eyes on the prize of being Spencer Cox’s campaign manager and who might wrangle for it by throwing Jon (who replaced Spencer, his fourth cousin, in the Utah House when the latter was appointed lieutenant governor) under the bus.

In any case, it’s a fun read. And it’s educational. I think it should be required reading for any serious political science major in Utah. Two thumbs up.

(Photo Courtesy Holly Richardson)

Holly Richardson, a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune, enjoys politics some of the time. This was one of them.