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'Trash Headline' 

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox is proud to be smart in a “stupid age,” but don’t call him “woke.”

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click to enlarge Utah Gov. Spencer Cox speaks to reporters at PBS Utah on Thursday, Aug. 18. - RICK EGAN | POOL PHOTO
  • Rick Egan | Pool Photo
  • Utah Gov. Spencer Cox speaks to reporters at PBS Utah on Thursday, Aug. 18.

UNIVERSITY—During his monthly press conference at PBS Utah on Thursday, Gov. Spencer Cox bristled when asked about the headline of an article in Time that was posted online that morning.

Titled “The Red-State Governor Who's Not Afraid to Be 'Woke',” the article stemmed from an interview with Cox over lunch at Red Iguana and teed off of recent criticisms leveled against Cox by Fox News personality Tucker Carlson.

“That headline is doing the exact same thing that I rail against. Being kind and trying to bring people together is very different than being ‘woke’,” Cox said. “I think it’s a trash headline.”

It was the latest chapter in Cox’s ongoing love-hate relationship with national media, whose attention he appears to both welcome (lunch with Time on one day, podcasts with Slate on another) and disdain (hourslong Twitter rants against The New York Times and HBO’s John Oliver regarding the declining Great Salt Lake).

In March, Cox vetoed a bill banning transgender girls from participating in school sports, prompting state lawmakers to reconvene and override his action. The veto earned him praise from liberals and independents but drew vocal criticisms from conservatives like Utah GOP chairman Carson Jorgensen, who took to Carlson’s Fox News program to criticize the “woke” maneuvering.

When asked Thursday if the new Time piece would generate new political consequences for his administration, Cox was unambiguous in his frustration.

“There’s always political consequences,” he said. “We live in a really stupid age.”

Much of Thursday’s press conference involved the governor weighing in on recent media topics, rather than generating new ones. The issue of the transgender athletics ban was specifically raised, following a hearing by lawmakers on Wednesday that revealed at least one Utah child’s gender had been investigated after the parents of a defeated competitor suspected she wasn’t adequately feminine.

“We’re living in this world where we’ve become sore losers and we’re looking for any reason to figure out why our kid lost,” Cox said.

While he continued to oppose a blanket ban on transgender athletes, he added that there’s likely little that can be done about disgruntled parents who meddle in their children’s sports.

“There are unreasonable parents everywhere, always, from little league to college sports and professional sports,” Cox said. “I’ve been guilty of it myself, where I've yelled at [referees] in the past and been a ref who parents yell at. We get really involved with our kids, as we should, but sometimes that can go a little too far.”

Cox was also asked about the primary defeat this week of Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, whose ouster from the House is widely seen as a result of her vocal opposition to former president Donald Trump and his false claims of widespread voter fraud.

Cox said Cheney’s loss wasn’t a surprise, and that it is a “tumultuous” time for the Republican Party. But he also emphasized that it was a single election in the nation’s smallest state, and not necessarily indicative of the direction of the GOP in Utah or elsewhere. He was critical of politicians who lean into partisanship and hyperbole, and members of political parties who seek to expel those they disagree with.

“If you want a governor who’s exactly like Donald Trump, I’m probably not your guy,” Cox said. “I like to work with the other side, I like to bring people together. That certainly wasn't his style.”

Asked about the recently-passed Inflation Reduction Act—a substantial Democratic spending package targeting health care costs and climate change—Cox said that it is misnamed and was skeptical it would truly reduce rising costs. But he said he was encouraged by some of the concessions made to secure the vote of West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, particularly around the easing of development permits on federal lands.

Those concessions are expected to lead to an increase in mineral extraction in the short term, but Cox noted that the permitting process has stood in the way of environmentally beneficial projects as well, like solar and wind farms or the utility lines that transfer renewable energies to the grid.

“If you really care about the climate and you care about reducing emissions, we have to find ways to greatly increase the speed at which we’re able to build these transmission lines,” Cox said.

Cox also opened his press conference by noting that Utah families are headed back to school, and by thanking the state’s teacher for their work, which he got a taste of last year by substitute teaching in a middle school.

“Its one of the hardest things i’ve ever done,” Cox said. “It just gave me a deeper appreciation for our teachers.”

Click here to watch the full video of Cox's PBS Utah press conference.

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