Editor’s note: Big Tent Ideas always aims to provide balancing perspectives on the hottest issues of the day. Below is a column arguing that Utah’s Republican Party has a robust track record of conservative leadership on a range of issues. A counterpoint can be found here, where longtime D.C. and Utah politico Jared Whitley argues that the state has a RINO problem.
Last year, the conservative-leaning American Legislative Exchange Council, with Dr. Arthur Laffer, published its “Report on Economic Freedom,” ranking America’s governors based on their economic policies. Unsurprisingly, Govs. Gavin Newsom and Andrew Cuomo were right near the bottom. Gov. Kristi Noem came in first place, with Gov. Ron DeSantis third.
For anyone who knows Governor Cox personally, this is no surprise. I first met Spencer Cox almost a decade ago when we served together in the Utah House of Representatives. A fellow like-minded conservative, we quickly became friends. I marveled at his ability to apply conservative principles to some of our state’s most challenging issues, while always treating those who disagreed with him with civility and respect.
When Cox was sworn in as Utah’s 18th Governor, his administration immediately began prioritizing policies based on those conservative principles. In fact, his first executive order did something Utah conservatives always pay lip service to, but rarely have the backbone to execute: overhaul our bureaucratic, anti-competitive occupational licensing laws. He also implemented COVID-19 responses that earned Utah the #1 ranking by the conservative National Bureau of Economic Research.
Within just five weeks of being sworn in, Cox signed H.B. 60, Utah’s Constitutional Carry legislation. Gov. Ron DeSantis recently said: “… I can tell you before I am done as governor, we will have a signature on that [constitutional carry] bill.” Conservatives like DeSantis always promise to enact constitutional carry legislation. Five weeks after being sworn in, Utah Governor Cox had it done.
When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the Cox Administration publicly stated that they “wholeheartedly support this Supreme Court ruling and are encouraged to see abortion law will be left to elected state representatives.”
Although I could go on, Cox’s conservative track record in office is unsurprising to anyone who knows him. What is surprising, however, is the number of keyboard warriors in my party who spend liberal amounts of time turning over stones in search for hints that Cox might not actually be a “real” conservative. In fact, one honestly wonders if they have any time left over to advocate for, say, conservative causes.
Invariably, they cherry pick an isolated example, such as a vetoed bill, always omitting critical context. Worse, they criticize him with a selectively-edited video, something we even saw on a recent national conservative show. The odd goal of these conservative advocates is to show that a governor who agrees with them only 95% of the time isn’t a “real” conservative.
This dynamic, of course, is not new — Ronald Reagan faced eerily similar criticisms from so-called conservatives just a few years after his first election.
I suspect that their real angst with Cox is that he doesn’t share their obvious focus on furthering political divides. Rather, he speaks as one who has practically memorized Arthur Brooks’ must-read book “Love Your Enemies.”
In fact, during the 2020 election, Cox turned heads nationally by filming a funny and heartwarming television ad together with his Democratic opponent, in which he stated that “we can disagree without hating each other.”
A recent poll conducted by Morning Consult ranked Cox as one of the top ten most popular governors in the country. My suspicion is that his high approvals are not only because he is a conservative governor in a conservative state, but because his constituents also view him as a Governor who is also a model of civility. The kind of conservative unwilling to vilify.
Derek Brown is the former chairman of the Utah Republican Party and former member of the Utah House of Representatives.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.
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