Fall in Line | Private Eye | Salt Lake City Weekly

Fall in Line 

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I'm one you can count among the many who had high hopes for Gov. Spencer Cox after the reins of our state's stewardship were handed to him by former Gov. Gary Herbert. It was an easy breakout for me, a lifelong Democrat who has occasionally sinned by voting for a Republican here and there. Don't worry for my soul. I've also been to confession and been given absolution for those rare indiscretions of crossing party lines.

I had high hopes for Spencer Cox. And why not? As our former lieutenant governor, he pissed absolutely no one off. Nobody could find fault with the guy. Compared to the hard-right perception of Gary Herbert, he offered a glimmer of hope to Democrats and independents for a kinder, more-gentle Utah. He was also a bit of a Twitter sensation, posting pleasing homilies and pictures of his Fairview farm, opining on the Utah Jazz and college football and sharing his family with ours—essentially being as likeable as you or me.

Utah produces an innumerable tally of talented, likeable boys like Spencer Cox. My own kids are talented and likeable, too. However, they could never be Utah's governor. Alas, they've followed me into the hell depths of being a Utah Democrat—you know, the Utahns who still believe in science and fair elections. Nor are my kids of the dominant religion. No use belaboring that one, lest I piss off thousands of my Mormon relatives, but be reminded that in 126 years, Utah has only been led by three non-LDS governors. All three were Democrats as well.

Simon Bamberger was the first, serving from 1917 to 1921. He was Jewish. It remains a mystery how that got by everyone. Next came George Dern, serving from 1925 to 1933. Dern had a fine political career, but he's equally known as the grandfather of actor Bruce Dern and the great-grandfather of the actress Laura Dern.

The third was J. Bracken Lee, among Utah's most colorful politicians ever. Like Cox, Lee came from rural Utah Mormon stock (as did nearly every other Utah Lee, from Sen. Mike Lee all the way back to John D. Lee, famed for taking the proverbial bullet for the Mountain Meadows Massacre), but "Brack" was not affiliated with the LDS Church.

Lee's final year as governor was 1957. People born that year are retiring now. I'm sure with some faith and gerrymandering, Utah can keep the exclusively inclusive streak alive until the next century.

Your kids can't amount to a hill of political beans in Utah, either. Get used to it. Well, perhaps your kids could serve on a local school board. They might even reach a slightly higher post if they live in a gay neighborhood, in an ethnic enclave or in an overwhelmingly Democratic district. It won't matter much, because not only is that the end of their Utah political aspirations—outside of lobbying that is—even if they should do something good for their own constituents, the boys in the white shirts at the legislative and executive levels will crush their ambitions anyway.

It's what they do. Where do they learn to collectively band together to stifle whole swaths of hope and ideas that live in Utahns who are not LDS or Republican?

I guess it's the water in such places as Fairview, the birthplace and current residence of Gov. Spencer Cox. Fairview is not exactly a hotbed of political activism. Or drinking. The nearest liquor store is six miles away in Mount Pleasant.

Settled by early Utah Mormon pioneers (such as my own great-great grandfather, who cast his lot for a spell in the Monroe area), Fairview is also home to a modest cluster of folks who work at points north along the Wasatch Front, plus those who keep second or recreational homes there. Cox himself made the daily two-hour commute to Salt Lake City to do the hard work of lieutenant governor—looking nice in photographs and standing at the ever-ready as then-Gov. Herbert signed another bill or took an important phone call. Truth is, lieutenant governors don't do much, so we therefore didn't really get to know Spencer Cox, did we?

No, we didn't. In just a few weeks, everyone's loveable Twitter buddy has allowed our four gerrymandered congressional districts to section into even denser GOP/LDS strongholds. He became muted when COVID spread through all of Utah like a brush fire on the lower 40. He allowed for Salt Lake County and City mask mandates in schools and public places to be rescinded by the myopic and vindictive Utah Legislature (despite over 25% of all Utah COVID deaths occurring since last fall when mask quarreling began in earnest). He idly watches as press restrictions via new public records legislation head to vote (Take that, Tribune!). But most damningly, he's engaged in the least rural manly man trait of all—whining.

The governor and his family need to be protected. That's OK. But allocating and spending $500,000 on security improvements for his Fairview home in the dark of night makes this governor out to be like all the rest—a rapscallion. When the story broke, he took to Twitter to validate his personal needs while also whining about simple errors in a newspaper headline. Hey, man, when the cow milk spills, you don't cry, OK? Isn't that a Fairview homily?

Cox once offered a glimmer of hope to Utah's outlier residents. But now? Like the rest of the team that he is now openly in full favor with, he expects everyone outside his power loop to either fall in line or fall into an unmarked grave—just like fall guy John D. Lee did, down the road a piece from Fairview—while he waits for it all to blow over.

Send comments to john@cityweekly.net.

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About The Author

John Saltas

John Saltas

John Saltas is a lamb eating, Bingham Canyon native, City Weekly feller who'd rather be in Greece.

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