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Gov. Cox talks with Box Elder High students as part of statewide tour

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox is talking to a high school student while seated on a stage with five other students seated around him.
Jacob Scholl
The Salt Lake Tribune
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, center right, speaks with Box Elder High School students while on a listening tour of the state.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox stepped out of a black SUV beneath overcast skies Tuesday morning. A group of Box Elder High School students and administrators anticipating his arrival, some holding a sign that read, “Welcome Governor Cox!”

His visit to the Brigham City high school was the latest in his “Connecting Utah” tour of all 29 Utah counties to meet with students and residents around the state. Cox crossed off Cache, Box Elder and Weber from his list of counties on Tuesday.

As part of the tour, he visited Logan’s Green Canyon High School before stopping in Brigham City. He visited Weber High School in Pleasant View later in the day. He visited high schools in Davis, Morgan and Rich counties Monday.

Cox said the concerns he has heard from high schoolers around the state are largely the same — worries about the cost of college and finding affordable housing, for instance.

“But also, I sense a real optimism that exists with these young people as well,” Cox said. “They’re very bright, they’re getting a great education and they have more opportunities than ever before.”

In addition to students, Cox spoke with local and state elected officials during his Tuesday stop. Those in attendance included Box Elder County Commissioner Lee Perry and Joel Ferry, executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources. Both are former state lawmakers, with Ferry stepping down from the Legislature last fall after Cox appointed him to lead DNR.

Cox said flooding concerns were among the worries he has heard about from talking with people in Rich County on Monday and in Cache County Tuesday morning.

“In Rich County, you know, they’re losing a lot of cattle right now because there’s so much snow on the ground and there’s flooding concerns,” Cox said. “We’re certainly hearing the flooding concerns everywhere we go.”

For people in Cache Valley, the concerns he heard were more about housing and growth, saying, “it’s exploding up there, and we’re seeing so, so many people moving in.” He said the state is doing what it can to address those needs, pointing to additional funding for affordable housing that was approved during the latest Legislative session.

After the greeting students and faculty packed the high school’s auditorium, where Cox took to the stage and thanked those in attendance.

Cox continued his push against youth using social media, telling the audience, “I’m hoping that for the next few minutes, we’ll all put these away and we’ll be able to connect and have a conversation,” while holding up his phone. Last week, he said during a news conference he expects legal challenges to two bills aimed at reducing social media use by kids.

“I think it’s had a negative impact on my generation too, but it’s certainly been more pronounced with your generations,” Cox told students Tuesday. “We passed two major bills to work on this, to keep social media companies accountable, (and) make it so they can’t use their addictive algorithms on young people.”

Students asked him about affordable housing, his 2022 veto of the transgender sports bill and why he went into politics.

It has been over a year since the Legislature passed a bill banning trans youth from participating in school sports matching their gender identity, then later overrode Cox’s veto of the bill. Despite the bill, trans youth can still compete in sports, as a state judge granted a preliminary injunction to prevent the law from taking effect. On Tuesday, Cox said the bill played out as he thought it would, with lawmakers overturning his veto and a judge blocking the law.

During his closing remarks, Cox was urging students to be civil when having disagreements with others when he made a brief reference to a video of him that started circulating this past weekend at the Utah GOP Convention.

Jason Preston, a former congressional candidate, confronted Cox while asking about Utah building a “smart city” — an imaginary concept where conspiracy theorists believe the government will force people to live as part of a surveillance state. Cox responded to the confrontation by telling Preston, “you’re really good at this, you make up s***, and then try to make us look bad.”

On Tuesday, Cox expressed some remorse for how he handled the interaction, saying, “Just this past weekend, somebody came, attacked me, and I went into attack mode and I need to be better. Usually, I’m better but this time I wasn’t.”

“Social media is designed to tear us apart, that’s the whole point,” Cox told the auditorium Tuesday. “We post things that we never say face to face, but we can do better.”

Reporter Jacob Scholl covers northern Utah as part of a newly-created partnership between The Salt Lake Tribune and Utah Public Radio. Scholl writes for The Tribune and appears on-air for UPR.