Yes, Utah’s political establishment was surprised this week when GOP Gov. Gary Herbert picked freshman state House Rep. Spencer Cox for his new lieutenant governor.
But upon reflection, this was really a smart choice, I believe.
Cox, R-Fairview, is little known to most Utahns.
About the only buzz he’s gotten – outside of Capitol Hill hallways – is his well-reasoned lawyerly blog post on why embattled Attorney General John Swallow should either resign or be impeached by the Utah House.
You can read it here.
Herbert told a news conference this week that it was current Lt. Gov. Greg Bell who first put the bug in his ear that he should consider Cox.
Bell is resigning over financial matters – bluntly put he says he needs to earn more money before he and his wife retire.
Let me say for disclosure that UtahPolicy publishes nearly every week a guest column by Bell.
And it’s possible that Cox may continue that connection with UtahPolicy.
Still, my praise for Herbert’s decision is not based on that association, but rather on my own warped views of Utah’s political scene.
Why the Cox choice is smart for Herbert:
-- Cox is relatively young by Utah political standards of high office. At 38 Cox likely is willing to be a loyal second-in-command to Herbert.
Bell, who is 64, played that role well, also.
But there were a number of names floating around as possible lieutenant governor picks that may have had to swallow hard when standing next to Herbert in tough times – with the look on their faces that say “I wouldn’t have done that stupid thing had I been governor.”
-- Cox is energetic and articulate.
To some degree, being lieutenant governor is a cheerleading post. Yes, there are substantive issues that the LG must undertake.
But he’s also the No. 1 guy to step in for the governor when the top dog can’t make an event.
The articulate Cox is prepared to espouse any of Herbert’s plans – assuming they are well defined.
Even if they aren’t it never hurts that you can have a young guy stepping up to fill in for you who can look good, talk well and generally make folks feel better that Herbert took a pass at their event.
-- Assuming Herbert seeks another four-year term in 2016, Cox will have had the time to make friends across the state, especially within the GOP ranks.
If the Count My Vote citizen initiative passes and all qualified candidates go to a GOP primary in 2016, Cox would be an asset in the campaign.
If CMV fails, or courts strike it down, then Cox would also be an aide in working the 4,000 or so state GOP delegates come the 2016 State Republican Convention.
On that re-election front, Cox is likely to be an advantage either way.
-- Even though Cox has only been in the Legislature for the 2013 general session, he didn’t make any enemies there.
He’s in the general group of bright 2012 GOP freshmen who already are making an impact on the 61-member-strong House Republican caucus.
That group will likely only grow in influence over the next few years, and having one of the original members now lieutenant governor helps.
Herbert was never a legislator.
And the governor has said time and again that Bell, a well-respected state senator before Herbert tapped him as lieutenant governor back in 2009, was a real asset in dealing with the GOP-controlled Legislature.
Cox is expected to step into that role.
-- Finally, and this is pure speculation on my part, Cox could be in line for an even higher office.
At some point over the next three years, it may come to pass that Swallow leaves the AG office – either through resignation or impeachment.
Herbert would get to pick the new attorney general – with confirmation by the Utah Senate.
How helpful would it be for Herbert to have a close friend and former partner in the Attorney General’s Office?
I’m talking about Cox, of course, who is a licensed attorney.
And then Herbert would get to select a third lieutenant governor for himself.
Funny how all this seems to work out, isn’t it?