Spencer Cox: The lieutenant governor who almost said no

Published: Sunday, June 29 2014 4:30 p.m. MDT

Then they began to question what they were doing. “That third boy really threw me,” says Abby. “I didn’t know what I was going to do with these boys. I worked on a farm. I saw our little quarter acre in Kaysville and wondered how am I going to teach these boys to work?”

Other questions arose. They saw a bumper sticker that read: “It’s 99 percent of the attorneys who give the other 1 percent a bad name.” It started a discussion. “Is the world a better place because of what I do here?” he asked Abby.

“Absolutely not,” she said, taking the direct approach.

If all that weren’t enough, Cox’s father, Eddie, invited him to run the family business in Fairview — CentraCom, a telephone company (now telecommunications) his grandfather bought in 1919 that his family continued to manage after selling it in 2001.

“I’m going to manage the phone company another 10 years,” he told Spencer. “How about moving back here and raising your kids here and take a big pay cut?”

Cox’s peers thought he was crazy to consider such a move. He sought advice from U.S. District Court Judge Ted Stewart, for whom he had once clerked. Stewart, who is from Logan, told him, “If you get a chance to go back home, I promise you you’ll have more fulfilling opportunities to serve the community, your family and the church. You won’t regret it.”

Those words would prove prophetic.

Spencer not only took a 25-percent pay cut by leaving the firm, he gave up the chance to make partner and left a bonus that was nearly as much as his yearly salary at CentraCom.

They lived in Fairview proper for two years and made plans to move into their dream home on seven acres carved out of the old family farm. Before that could happen, Cox received a call from his church asking him to serve as bishop of the local ward. It meant he couldn’t move for five years — he needed to remain in ward boundaries. The Coxes continued to live in town. After serving as bishop for five years, Cox finally moved the family into their new farm home on the bench north of town.

Finally, everything was working out just as the Coxes had hoped. The kids had their farm work, Abby had her dream home, Spencer was making good money again as vice president and general council with CentraCom. Long hours at the law firm had left him little time at home; now he was coaching his kids’ baseball, basketball and football teams and he was home for dinner. The Coxes were surrounded by family, with his father’s home a couple of football fields away from his back door, his brother’s home next door and other relatives nearby.

“Life was good,” he says. “We loved it.”

Then politics called and complicated his bucolic plans. Politics run in the family blood. Their parents on both sides were active civically. Eddie had even served as county commissioner. “We were taught to give back,” says Cox. “There were volunteer firefighters and EMTs in my family.” A political science major at USU, he was soon drawn into local politics.

Cox was appointed to fill a vacancy on the city council for nine months and that was the beginning. He was voted in as mayor and then county commissioner and finally state representative.

Then Gov. Gary Herbert called him, ostensibly to ask for input on candidates to replace Lt. Gov. Greg Bell, who was resigning to address personal financial problems. Later, Cox would learn that Bell had suggested his name to the governor. After Cox suggested several candidates to Herbert, the governor said, “What about you?” No one saw that one coming. Cox had served in the state legislature less than a year. Now he was being considered for an office that could be a stepping stone to the governor’s office (two of the last three governors served as lieutenant governors). LaVarr Webb and Frank Pignanelli, the Deseret News’ political columnist team, listed more than 30 candidates for the job; Cox was not one of them.

Two days later the governor called Cox again and asked to meet with him and his wife. They talked for 90 minutes. Five days later he offered him the job.

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