FULL INTERVIEW: Gov. Cox previews State of the State, explains DEI comments

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — On the eve of his 2024 State of the State Address, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox sat with ABC4’s Brien McElhatten to talk about his priorities for this year’s legislative session and for the rest of his term.

The State of the State Address will be broadcast live on ABC4, CW 30 and it will stream live on ABC4.com starting at around 6:30 p.m. tonight, Jan. 18.

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Cox said, just like every other governor in America, he’s concerned about the housing crisis. But at the same time, he pointed out that as Utah grows, it should keep the best of the state and change its worst points. He called that idea a “general theme” for the legislative session.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have recently become hot topics among state lawmakers, with Cox in some ways leading the most visible attack on the subject. Back in December 2023, he said such initiatives can lead to division instead of inclusivity. He called a requirement for higher education personnel to make so-called diversity statements “awful, bordering on evil.”

When asked his feelings on H.B. 261, a bill that would ban such statements in the university system, he said he had not yet read the full text of the bill but noted that discussion on the subject reached back to the previous year’s session.

“I’ve said I had deep concerns about DEI statements– this idea that we’re, as a government, we’re — which our universities are — we’re forcing employees and professors to kind of pledge allegiance to a political ideology when our universities are supposed to be about seeking truth and, and a battle of ideas, even unpopular ideas,” Cox said.

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That said, he stated he does want Utah and its university systems to support diversity, noting he wanted Utah’s government and universities “to be places where everyone feels welcome, where we’re reaching out to the most vulnerable, to the marginalized, and making sure that they’re getting opportunities, that everyone gets opportunities.”

He said he believes H.B. 261 isn’t about discrimination, but about “making space for everyone.”

“Let’s do everything we can to make sure that [students are] being successful, but let’s do less labeling and less dividing and more bringing together and more unifying, and that’s what we’re trying to accomplish,” he said.

Cox said he now wishes he had used different language in talking about the subject.

Air Quality

When asked if he thought Utah was doing enough to improve air quality across the Wasatch Front, Cox said he did, noting that many solutions are still being implemented.

“We first started monitoring air quality 50 years ago,” Cox said. “We had 1 million people here. We have 3.4 million people here now, and our air is significantly cleaner than it was 50 years ago. That’s a miracle of modern science.”

He said Native Americans originally called the area “the valley of smoke,” pointing out that the inversion process that keeps air trapped in the valley is a natural phenomenon. He said the air now is 40% cleaner than it was 15 years ago, and that trend will only continue.

Utah Income Tax

While Cox has advocated for the eventual elimination of the state’s income tax, he admitted he doesn’t see it happening this year.

“I know that’s not going to happen,” he said. “But if that’s the end goal of cutting every year, then we need to have a holistic look at that. I don’t know exactly what that looks like right now, and that’s why I want to have the conversation.”

Cox said by planting the seed, Utah could move toward such a goal over a “multi-year conversation.”

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