Barron: Vote Huntsman, Not Cox, to Bring Utah through the COVID-19 Crisis

 

With the June 30th primary election looming, Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox and former Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr. lead the GOP field in the race to be Utah’s next governor. Back in April, one of my colleagues on the opinion desk argued that undecided Utahns should support Cox’s run. She had the opportunity to hear Cox speak on his 10-year vision for Utah and was impressed by his ideas and knowledge. Historically, however, Cox’s rhetoric has not matched his record. Instead, Utahns should elect Huntsman, the candidate most qualified to lead Utah during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

While Cox claims his political motivation centers around his desire to help people, he has supported actions and made comments that have put Utahns in danger. Last year, he wrote a letter honoring homeless Utahns who have died, but months earlier announced the closure of the Road Home even though state officials knew the remaining shelters did not have enough beds to house Salt Lake’s homeless population. This decision may have cost the lives of Utahns who had to sleep on the streets during record cold temperatures.

Cox has also compared abortion to the violence and immorality of African enslavement in the United States — “I believe [future generations will] look at [abortion] much like we look at slavery,” he said. Cox claims that his passionate anti-abortion perspective is about saving lives, but his offensive comments could put Utahns seeking abortions at risk. Researchers have posited that elected officials’ insensitive and inflammatory comments validated sexist and racist rhetoric in the eyes of perpetrators, fueling surges in hate crime. After President Donald Trump was elected, the National Abortion Federation reported an increase in targeted hate mail, harassing phone calls, clinic invasions and an attempted bombing — the first in many years.

As his actions habitually contradict his words, often at the expense of vulnerable Utahns, electing Cox as governor during the COVID-19 pandemic could be devastating. The country has already witnessed how a lack of resolved, experienced leadership can cost lives. In contrast, Huntsman is known to support improving Utahns’ lives even when that requires breaking from convention. A recent poll by the Deseret News and the Hinckley Institute of Politics found that more Utahns trust Huntsman to lead the state in a time of crisis than any other candidate.

In 2009, during the Great Recession, Utah legislators overhauled the state’s formerly untouchable liquor law at the urging of then-Governor Huntsman. By no longer requiring bar customers to first buy a membership card to the bar’s “private club,” lawmakers hoped to boost Utah’s struggling economy. As Huntsman explained at the time, “One of [Utah’s] economic pillars is travel and tourism … and if that’s going to be hampered by these jaded and old-fashioned views, then that’s going to impact … our ability to fund the things that most citizens care deeply about, like our schools.” It is, admittedly, difficult to quantify the success of this specific legislation, but total taxable leisure and hospitality sales increased 20% over the next four years, demonstrating Huntsman’s capacity for wise decision-making in a time of crisis.

Now, Utah is grappling with the economic impact of COVID-19, as more than 175,000 Utahns have been furloughed since February. Economic anxiety coupled with health concerns has created unprecedented challenges for state and local governments. Huntsman, who has the unique experience of leading Utah through a previous recession, has commended actions taken to contain the spread of the pandemic but has argued that more needs to be done to aid small businesses. Additionally, Huntsman wants state leaders to continue consulting public health experts even after the threat of COVID-19 has passed. Resources spent preparing for a second wave of the virus or a new pandemic will save jobs and lives.

While Utah’s mail-in ballot system has helped “COVID-19 proof” the upcoming election, the virus will likely still play a key role in how Utahns vote. From loss of life to the loss of jobs, the pandemic is on the mind of every voter. Utah’s next governor will take charge of the state amid the potential second-wave of a virus that has already killed almost a 100,000 Americans, forced businesses to close and resulted in record unemployment levels — so Utahns need to elect a leader who is experienced, innovative and honest about their vision. Huntsman changed “untouchable” laws to benefit Utahns, is known for his aversion to pandering and is the only candidate who has previously led Utah through a recession, which is why Utahns should vote for him this June and November.

 

m.barron@dailyutahchronicle.com

@readbarron

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