SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah Gov. Spencer Cox called for keeping children in school during the coronavirus pandemic, warned against making voting more difficult and lamented destructive political divisions during his State of the State address Thursday.
The Republican governor said that he sees some hope that a punishing wave of the omicron variant of the virus is peaking and acknowledged disagreements about how to deal with it. In Salt Lake County, for example, local leaders passed a mask mandate that some conservative lawmakers want to overturn.
Cox called for finding “common ground” to ensure that kids can remain “in school, in person, face-to-face with their friends and teachers” at a time when several school districts have temporarily switched to remote learning due to the virus.
Utah Democrats, in their response, espoused masks, social distancing and testing protocols, measures many Republicans are moving away from amid disagreement about mask-wearing and testing shortages.
Cox also said he wants to spend over $970 million in education funding, prioritizing at-risk and disadvantaged students.
On elections, he championed a bill from Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson to strengthen election integrity without making it more difficult to vote.
“Unfortunately, some in our country have found that unsubstantiated claims and flat-out lies are an effective way to destabilize our constitutional republic and make it harder for their opponents to participate and vote,” he said. “Voting security must never be about making it harder for legal voters to vote.”
His comments come after GOP lawmakers approved an audit into the state’s election system in Utah, a state handily won by then-President Donald Trump in 2020.
Cox despaired of growing political divides in the U.S. and a “terribly destructive” tendency to adopt opinions from cable news to “get likes on social media.”
“Today all politics is national. And that is bad. Very bad … in past generations as Americans, we dreamed big. Now, I’m afraid that our eyes are consistently in the gutter,” he said. “But not in Utah. Not yet anyway. In Utah, we still look up.”
Written by LINDSAY WHITEHURST, Associated Press.
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