Spencer Cox, candidate for Utah governor, stumps at Park City food pantry
Spencer Cox, the Republican lieutenant governor of Utah and a candidate for the GOP nomination in the 2020 gubernatorial contest, made a campaign stop in Park City on Monday, foregoing the mansions and high-dollar fundraisers that local politicking sometimes involves.
Cox instead spent time in the afternoon volunteering at the Christian Center of Park City’s food pantry, sorting food alongside others at the not-for-profit organization. Although an unorthodox sort of Park City campaign stop, Cox has pledged to make an appearance in each of Utah’s cities and towns as part of his bid for the state’s top political post.
Wearing a yellow and green campaign shirt and jeans, Cox briefly spoke with the leadership of the Christian Center of Park City and moved to the shelves of the food pantry. He removed bread from one bag and put it another. The bread will be given to a goat farmer for feed since it had been in the pantry long enough that it started to become stale.
Cox spent part of Monday moving through Summit County, stopping in the East Side communities before arriving in Park City. Although the communities on the East Side tend to be more conservative than Park City, Cox has appeared to win at least some support in the Park City area as well. The Park City area has long trended Democratic, and it is unclear what level of backing he has among local Republicans who will ultimately help decide the GOP nominee next year.
In an interview at the Christian Center of Park City, Cox covered a variety of topics, including the issues voters are broaching as he moves across the state. He said people are raising similar topics in each place.
“Everybody seems to share similar concerns. There’s growth happening here in Summit County, explosive growth, we’re seeing it on the Wasatch Front and the Wasatch Back. Certainly that’s a concern for people — not that they’re completely opposed to growth, some of them are, but they just want to make sure that they maintain what made these places special,” Cox said. “Whether they’ve been here for seven generations or whether they’ve been here for five years, there’s a reason they came here, and they want to be able to maintain that.”
He said housing prices are concerning to voters and said the lack of industry in rural areas, coupled with a tax base that heavily relies on property taxes rather than other sorts of revenues, makes it difficult for people who grow up in those areas to remain there.
“The good news is that there are things happening, positive things,” he said, noting that unemployment rates are low, people are finding employment opportunities and salaries are rising. “But there is a widening gap, unfortunately, that’s happening we see that especially in rural Utah where the education gap people are losing out.”
Cox said new opportunities are different than those that were traditionally available, pointing to losses in the coal industry as an example. Some Utahns are not enjoying the same prospects as others, he said.
“We’re seeing opioid rates skyrocket, addiction rates, suicide rates, that are going up because of this gap. We call them deaths of despair — people who are missing out on the economic gain,” Cox said.
He described what he sees as a need to boost education for youngsters as well as people who are “not finding their place in the economy.” He said there should be opportunities for young Utahns who are not attending universities to enroll in technical schools, giving them the chance to quickly become “retooled in their skills” to position themselves for the workforce.
“There is a place for young people who want to go get a four-year degree at the University of Utah or a master’s degree at the University of Utah and can handle more debt to do that. But there is a growing segment of the population where that’s not, that’s not, possible,” Cox said.
The lieutenant governor also briefly addressed traffic and transportation in the Park City area. The two entryways — S.R. 224 and S.R. 248 — are state highways, meaning state leaders rather than City Hall or the County Courthouse craft policies. Cox did not provide details about the state highways but said the Utah Department of Transportation must make decisions based on the available monies.
“We do have limited funds, and so at the end of the day, we’ve got to prioritize those and figure out what, where are we going to spend it, where are we not going to spend it,” he said.
Cox added Utah should be at the forefront of technological changes in transportation, such as driverless vehicles and vehicles powered by electricity, and said he wants increases in carpooling and mass transit.
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In another case, a 30-year-old Park City man pleaded guilty to driving under the influence.