ST. GEORGE — Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, members of his campaign staff and local volunteers were at Switchpoint Community Resource Center to help lay nearly a half-acre of sod Monday evening. Lending a hand at Switchpoint was one part of Cox’s visit to St. George in an overall effort to visit all of Utah’s 248 incorporated towns and cities.
St. George marked visit No. 113. Just prior to that, the lieutenant governor was in Santa Clara.
Cox, who hails from the rural community of Fairview in Sanpete County, is running for governor in 2020 on the Republican ticket and is making a point of connecting with the rest of the state beyond the Wasatch Front.
“It’s really been incredible as we’ve traveled the state, meeting with people in every community,” he said Monday. “We’ve never had a candidate for governor come to Fairview where I’m from.”
Cox was joined by many others as they grabbed rolls of sod from nearby pallets and laid it across leveled dirt. Soon a carpet of green replaced the barren ground beneath it.
Carol Hollowell, executive director of the Switchpoint, said she was grateful for the lieutenant governor choosing their location as one of his campaign’s service projects.
Cox told the crowd that he and his staff wanted to remind Utahns what makes Utah great.
“We give back,” he said. “Government was not meant to solve all of our problems. It has its role, and it is designed to solve some of our problems but not all of them. We do better when we do it together. … There’s something special when a community comes together.”
It took about an hour to lay the sod, after which Cox spoke with St. George News concerning various issues, including growing the economy in rural Utah, efforts by the state to increase mental health measures and the Lake Powell Pipeline.
Rural economic development
One of Cox’s top priorities is spreading the economic growth and development enjoyed by the more urban parts of the state to the rural communities.
Utah has been among the nation’s top performing economies for several years, he said, “but not every county has seen that type of economic development.”
In the case of Washington County, while there is low unemployment, Cox said there is a high amount of “under-employment” – a lack of high-paying jobs that allow a person to raise a family or live here due to high housing cost.
Among the state’s recent moves to help spur the creation of more jobs in rural Utah is the rollout of a teleworking program for state employees announced last month.
Utah’s mental health
Earlier this month the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute and the Utah Hospital Association released a study that outlined Utah’s mental health system gaps and deficiencies.
According to the study, 1 in 5 adults in Utah experience poor mental health, and over half of the adults with mental illness did not receive mental health treatment or counseling. The study also goes into the suicide rate among teenagers and young adults and highlights overall gaps in Utah’s mental health services.
Resolving these issues has been passion of Cox’s for the last three years, he said.
“We’ve been making strides before they started that report to improve mental health here in Utah,” Cox said.
He pointed to the state’s forming a suicide prevention task force that Cox was tasked with by Gov. Gary Herbert. The task force approached the Legislature and procured a great deal of funding for suicide prevention measures, he said.
“There’s also a gap in our mental health care – people going to the emergency room and long-term care. We need to fill that gap,” he said. “So we’ve been meeting with the Legislature on ideas.”
The state is also planning to hold a mental health care summit with the Utah Hospital Association in October that will feature mental health experts from across the county and help Utah health care officials learn how to better address the state’s mental health care deficiencies.
Lake Powell Pipeline
While the Lake Powell Pipeline will primarily benefit Washington and Kane counties, it will also benefit the state overall, Cox said.
“Anything that benefits a part of the state benefits the whole state,” he said. “This economy is important to the state of Utah, it’s important to the people that live here, it’s important to the people that want to live here.”
While conservation practices should be pursued and implemented in relation to water resources, Washington County also needs a second source of water, particularly as it continues to grow, Cox said.
Local water planners have stressed the needs for a secondary source of water that the Lake Powell Pipeline would bring in, as the current population is served exclusively by the Virgin River basin.
Cox is the only candidate who has officially declared his intent to run for governor in 2020. Other potential 2020 gubernatorial candidates include entrepreneur Jeff Burningham, former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes and former Utah governor and U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.