SALT LAKE CITY — The first thing you notice about the author of “Utah Politics” is his age. Or rather his lack thereof.
Jon Cox is 36 years old. Unless you’re an NBA player or a starting pitcher, that’s just getting started. And yet, the book he’s written smacks of something maybe your grandfather might write.
It’s chock-full of anecdotes, asides, vignettes, trivia, flashbacks, theories, rules, corollaries, principles, wisdom, warnings, strategies, details, counsel and footnotes. Especially footnotes. Even his footnotes have footnotes.
“I’m an old soul,” says Cox in his defense. “I’ve always enjoyed history and those sorts of things. I’m technically a millennial, but my friends joke that I’m not really a millennial, I’m part of the silent generation, or a baby boomer.
“Everyone has their own interests, and Utah, all things Utah, and politics in particular, I really enjoy.”
If you don’t believe that, pick up a copy of “Utah Politics" — if you can find one. (It’s only available at Amazon on a print-on-demand basis.)
Jon didn’t write his book to get rich or famous or make the best-seller lists. He wrote it because he had all this information stored in his brain and wanted to get it out so he could put in new things.
He started on the manuscript a couple of years ago, after he left Gov. Gary Herbert’s office, where he was director of communications, and assumed his current position as vice president of government affairs at Rocky Mountain Power. Late last year he was finished and went to press.
His short chapters — most are one-page long; none are more than two — offer advice to aspiring office-holders about the nuances and peculiarities of Utah politics. That’s the book’s stated purpose. But beyond that, it serves as a launching pad for everything Cox has soaked up about his native land in his first 3 ½ decades.
His has not been an idle life. He grew up in Ephraim, graduated with an associate degree from Snow College, got his bachelor’s degree (in journalism) at Utah State University, followed by his master’s degree (in history) at the University of Utah. In, around, and in between, he worked for 4 ½ years on Sen. Bob Bennett’s staff, taught history as a professor at Snow College, served two terms in the Utah Legislature representing Sanpete and Juab counties (he replaced Spencer Cox, his fourth cousin and good friend, when Spencer Cox became lieutenant governor), then served as Herbert’s communications director before taking the vice president position at Rocky Mountain Power.
At least he’s changed jobs like a millennial.
He uses history to make his points in “Utah Politics.” For instance, in the chapter titled “The Granger Second Ward Rule” he reaches back to a prison riot at Point of the Mountain in 1957 when 500 inmates held as hostages members of the Granger 2nd Ward’s basketball team that had come to play against the prisoners.
The point was that the state’s newly elected governor, George Clyde, had to be prepared for things happening he could not possibly predict or control.
In a punchline only locals can fully appreciate, Cox writes, “The irony is not lost on Utahns that the biggest riot in state history would take place in the middle of a church basketball game.”
(The governor was able to successfully negotiate the release of the hostages and agreed to listen to the inmates’ grievances, which included, believe it or not, the lack of a chapel where they could worship — the chapel is still standing that was built as a result of the riot.)
It’s in the footnotes where the book shines, giving Cox the opening to riff without restraint on all sorts of topics, ranging from sports to movies to books to the Watergate scandal, to Dennis Rodman, to D.B. Cooper, to the fact that the 1938 Utah Senate had just one Republican, to the little town in central Utah originally named Thurber changing its name to Bicknell when a rich Easterner named Thomas Bicknell gave the town 1,000 books, to the raspberry shakes at Bear Lake (Jon’s favorite are at the Chevron station).
And that’s just getting started.
Here’s an example: At the bottom of Page 31, after discoursing about politicians who have won races in Utah even though they weren’t born here, he adds this footnote about George Dern, a nonnative governor:Comment on this story
“In a piece of random George Dern trivia, his great-granddaughter Laura Dern is a famous actress who is perhaps best known as the female lead in the movie 'Jurassic Park.' Her father (and grandson of the former governor), Bruce Dern, also enjoyed a long acting career, including such roles as one of the main characters in 'The Burbs' and Joe Kennedy in 'Chappaquiddick.'"
“I just love to find little quirks about Utah history I didn’t know about,” says Cox. “It’s stuff I’ve been collecting for years.”
He insists he has no current plans to run again for public office, but it’s a long life, and if the urge should strike, he knows where to turn for advice: Just call up Amazon and have them print a copy.