Spencer Cox: The lieutenant governor who almost said no

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

“I had won the lottery in the eyes of everyone else,” says Cox. “This was an incredible opportunity out of nowhere ..”

But he was not happy about it. It was, he says, “almost devastating. There were sleepless nights. We had the perfect life, everything we dreamed of. In the interview, the governor said, ‘You’re going to have to move your family to Salt Lake City if you do this.’ Abby and I looked at each other. I said, ‘That’s probably a deal-breaker for us. I felt like we were supposed to move back here (Fairview) for a reason, and I still feel that way.’”

He told the governor he could do the job from Fairview. He would simply commute the 100 miles to Salt Lake City since the position would require him to travel frequently no matter where he lived, and he and Abby had family in the area to help with the children. But Cox was still conflicted; it would also mean being gone for the dance recitals and Little League games.

“We went back and forth,” says Cox of the decision.

One afternoon he was sitting on the steps of his home, waiting for his daughter to return from school, as he often did. He watched her as she stepped off the bus and walked up the driveway toward the door, her backpack slung over her shoulders.

“I just sobbed,” he remembers. “I thought, ‘I can’t miss this.’ At that point I was ready to call the governor. I was 15 minutes away from calling him and telling him no.”

He walked to his parents’ home to discuss the dilemma with Eddie and his stepmother, Lesa. “I asked him for a blessing and then we had a good chat,” he says. “They told me they’d pick up the slack at home, that we were all in this together.”

Since taking the position in October, he has tried to meet the demands of his office with the needs of home. Most days he simply commutes to Salt Lake City. The Coxes’ extended family tends the kids when Abby accompanies her husband for political functions. He is gone all day during the week and sometimes on Saturday. He usually spends one night a week in Salt Lake City.

“I don’t coach the teams and don’t see (Emma Kate) walk up to the door,” he says, “but I tuck the kids in at night and see them in the morning.”

They use technology to cover some of the absences. If one of the kids is playing a ballgame or giving a speech at school, he watches via Skype. He helped one of his sons with a school project via FaceTime, and they emailed the speech back and forth to refine it. He tries to get home once a week to watch ballgames.

“The kids have adjusted well,” says Abby. “They knew it was going to be hard, but they understand it’s OK to do hard things. We have our days that are hard and days that are rewarding. We’re making it work, and we have lots of help. We couldn’t do it without our (extended) family.”

There have been other sacrifices besides family time. After Cox took a big cut to trade the law firm for the family business 11 years ago, he took another big pay cut (50 percent, he says) to accept the job of lieutenant governor. “My wife reminds me that we’re going the wrong direction,” he says. “But we always knew we had to do what’s right beyond the pay.”

Since taking office, Cox is frequently asked the obvious question: Now that the lieutenant governor’s job has fallen into his lap, does he aspire for the governor’s office in two years?

“If you have political ambitions, you don’t move to Fairview,” he says. “Greg Bell told me this: We serve as long as the people want us, then we go back to our lives. We don’t define ourselves by our positions. Because I was never expected to be here, I don’t have that baggage. I’m playing with house money. This far exceeded my expectations. If this is it, then what a ride, and I can’t wait to get back to my family.”

Sitting in their family room, side by side, the Coxes survey the scene outside the window — the sweeping fields and the mountains and the children working. Everything Stewart predicted has been fulfilled: the opportunities to serve community, family and church.

“Not a day goes by that Abby and I don’t look at each other and wonder what we are doing here,” he says. “How did we get here? It’s so humbling and overwhelming.”

Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: drob@deseretnews.com

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