Commentary: Elected officials elected to do their jobs regardless of candidacy

(Jeremy Harmon | The Salt Lake Tribune) Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox talks about what the state is doing in case of a coronavirus outbreak in Utah during a new conference at the State Capitol on Monday, March 3, 2020. Behind him is Gov. Gary Herbert.

As Utahns, we are grateful to live in a kind, prepared and well-managed state at a time of such unrest. We trust our leaders and have faith that Utah will emerge stronger than ever before.

With that in mind, we feel compelled to respond to an article in Thursday’s Salt Lake Tribune written by Don Olsen, a former public relations executive for the Huntsman Corporation. He asserts that it is not appropriate for Lt. Governor Spencer Cox to carry out the responsibilities of the job he was elected by the people to do while at the same time being a candidate for public office.

That is like saying that a United States senator should not run for reelection if he or she is going to keep working on legislation, or helping constituents back home. Or, a mayor should not convene meetings on crime and safety or infrastructure needs, because he or she might also be a candidate on a ballot. Or, a lieutenant governor should not help lead a state’s response to a crisis, because he is also a candidate for office.

We have had the privilege of working with Gov. Gary Herbert during his tenure as members of the Board of Regents, economic advisory councils and public education commissions. He has lead the state with purpose, principle and strength and is committed to the welfare of Utah and its citizens. As a great leader does, he empowers those around him to work hard and ensure that Utah continues to be the best-managed state in the nation, especially in times like these.

Every person in our state has been touched in some way by COVID-19 and the serious implications of a global pandemic. Herbert has assembled an outstanding team of government leaders and medical professionals to work side-by-side to protect the health and safety of every Utahn. Now, more than ever, we need to harness all the talent, experience and energy we can. For Olsen to say only the governor, and not the lieutenant governor, should lead this response is short-sighted. This is a time to put politics aside and focus on working together to meet our challenges.

During this crisis, Cox has made his priorities clear. He has taken his political ads down. Instead of focusing on fundraising, he has asked Utahns to give back to their neighbors. And with only three months before the primary, he has assigned day-to-day campaign responsibilities to his running mate. He is working around the clock, focused on the health and well being of the people of Utah.

This is not a new position for Cox. He has a unique talent to communicate, reassure and bring together people from all walks of life and viewpoints to address serious issues facing Utah. His efforts have included suicide prevention and mental health, opioid abuse, intergenerational poverty and emergency preparedness. His experience leading these efforts, as well as the work he does on a daily basis to support Herbert’s efforts on all issues, should be welcomed, not criticized.

Because, at the end of the day, isn’t that what we want our leaders to do — put the interests of the people first — before political campaigning?

Mark Bouchard is a member of the executive committee of United Way of Salt Lake and former state director at CBRE.

Rich Kendall is a former commissioner of higher education and a former superintendent of the Davis School District.

David Jordan is a former U.S. Attorney for the District of Utah.

Randy Shumway is founder of the Cicero Group and a member of the Board of Trustees of the University of Utah.