Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Addressing an ornate room in the state Capitol crowded with what looked to be most of his rural hometown, newly sworn-in Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox was overcome briefly by emotion Wednesday.
"This is an honor not just for me, but for the good people of Sanpete County," the Fairview native said, his voice breaking. "I'm grateful for my rural upbringing, for my family, for my parents, for the work ethic they taught me."
His cousin, Kenny Cox, said the momentary display was an example of Cox's humility tempering the confidence and intellect that helped make him Gov. Gary Herbert's choice to replace now former Lt. Gov. Greg Bell.
"It's a lot to take in, especially this soon," Kenny Cox said of his cousin's sudden advancement from a freshman GOP lawmaker to Utah's lieutenant governor at just 38 years old.
While Kenny Cox said he never doubted his cousin would rise in the political ranks, this was much faster than he expected. Now, he said, it may be a while before they perform together again as members of Upside, a rock cover band.
Spencer Cox's maternal grandmother, Phyllis Irons, said she didn't expect him to follow his father and grandfather into politics, serving in local government before winning a seat in the Utah Legislature last year.
His appointment by the governor last week surprised many political insiders who expected a more experienced pick. Irons said the folks back home in Sanpete County were even more stunned.
"I never expected Sanpete to get anything. Sanpete's not very well known. I just didn't think anybody would get up there that far, so I'm real proud of him," his grandmother said.
After Cox's unanimous Senate confirmation vote that came at the end of a special legislative session, Irons said it was all she could do not to jump up from her seat above the chamber and shout, "Hey, that's my grandson!"
Cox told reporters he felt a wave of emotion recalling his rural roots as he faced a standing room only crowd of hundreds of familiar faces in the formal Gold Room of the Capitol.
After graduating near the top of his class from Washington and Lee law school in Virginia, Cox said he turned down numerous offers to return to Utah, working first as a law clerk for U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart and then at a law firm.
Then, he said, the family decided to head home.
"It's been the best decision we made as a family. I love my rural roots," Cox said, describing how he and his wife, Abby, grew up working in the fields of their family's farms before and after school, often late into the evening.
His wife and four children will remain in Fairview and Cox plans on staying with a family member in Davis County during the work week. For the next few days, though, the family will be together on a long-planned trip to St. George.
Cox said he had no political goal beyond serving in the Legislature.
"People with political aspirations usually don't move to Fairview, Utah. It's not the bastion of political success for those that are seeking higher officer. It really has just happened," Cox said. "Doors have just opened."
Herbert, who assumed the office in 2009 after former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. resigned to become U.S. ambassador to China, is up for re-election in 2016 but has not announced his plans.
The governor said at Cox's swearing-in ceremony that he felt "like I got divorced and married at the same time" as he bid farewell to Bell and welcomed his new lieutenant governor.
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