Lt. gov. pick Spencer Cox wins unanimous approval from confirmation committee

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 16 2013 9:05 a.m. MDT

Rep. Spencer J. Cox, lieutenant governor appointee, speaks to the Senate Government Operations Confirmation Committee during a hearing at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013. Gov. Gary Herbert, Cox's wife, Abby, and mother, Lesa, listen.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The questions for Rep. Spencer Cox, Gov. Gary Herbert's pick for lieutenant governor, at his confirmation hearing Tuesday ranged from whether there was anything embarrassing in his background to his favorite bassist.

Members of the Senate Government Operations Confirmation Committee clearly liked the answers they heard from the Fairview Republican and voted unanimously to recommend he be confirmed Wednesday by the full Senate.

No one testified against the choice of Cox as the state's No. 2 during the hearing, which lasted less than an hour. The governor appeared before the committee to talk about his decision, which came as a surprise to many last week.

"Picking the lieutenant governor is a tough decision to make. It's like getting married," Herbert said, describing this search as even more difficult than his first effort to find a lieutenant governor four years ago.

The governor's choice then, Lt. Gov. Greg Bell, announced recently he was stepping down so he could earn more money to meet some financial obligations and get ready for retirement.

Herbert said this time he looked "throughout the state to find and interview people" before selecting Cox, 38, a freshman lawmaker who had served as a councilman and mayor in his hometown of Fairview.

The governor said he met Cox's father, Eddie Cox, when he was a Utah County Commissioner, and Eddie Cox, now a member of the state Transportation Commission, was a Sanpete County Commissioner.

Herbert said he appreciated the Cox family's work ethic. Both father and son remain part of the rural community, and both hold top positions with CentraCom, an area telecommunications company.

The governor said he ultimately chose the candidate who fit with his administration and shares his political philosophy as a right-of-center conservative.

"I believe Spencer fits the bill very well for what we need," Herbert said.

Cox, who was joined Tuesday by his parents and his wife, told the committee he recognized he was not at the top of anybody's list for the position. He said accepting it is a big sacrifice for his young family, who will remain in Fairview.

During the hearing, the graduate of the Washington and Lee law school in Virginia easily fielded questions from the same lawmakers he served with since his election to the Utah Legislature in 2012.

A simple "no" was Cox's response when asked by Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, about whether there was anything in his background that would embarrass his new boss or the state.

Cox, whose resume includes playing bass guitar in a band, took longer to answer the musical question. He settled on Travis Osmond, a member of the famed family of performers and his brother-in-law, who taught him to play.

Other issues raised by committee members included Cox's controversial blog posting earlier this year calling for the House to begin impeachment proceedings against Attorney General John Swallow.

Cox acknowledged that the posting could be seen as affecting his impartiality in the ongoing investigation into alleged election law violations by Swallow and said he needed to consider how to respond to those concerns.

The investigation, one of several still pending against Swallow, is being handled by an outside firm hired by the state that will report its findings to the elections office, overseen by the lieutenant governor.

Cox also avoided taking a stand on the Count My Vote initiative to change the way political parties nominate candidates from the current caucus and convention system to a direct primary.

"My personal feelings are irrelevant at this point," Cox said of the initiative, opposed by the state GOP but backed by prominent Republicans including former Gov. Mike Leavitt.

After being pressed for a more specific answer to that question, as well as his feelings on allowing the gathering of electronic signatures, Cox said he supported greater participation in the political process and fewer unnecessary barriers.

His nomination will go to the full Senate on Wednesday for confirmation, and he is expected to be sworn in afterward. A replacement for Cox in the Legislature will be selected at an upcoming meeting of GOP delegates in House District 58.

Email: lisa@deseretnews.com

Twitter: DNewsPolitics

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