Politics at the national level is messy, chaotic and uncertain. But in Utah, there could hardly be more stability, continuity and tranquility.
Utah has a new governor, but he’s very familiar because he’s currently the lieutenant governor. And in demeanor and approach, he’s much like the current governor.
Meanwhile, Utah has new legislative leaders, but they are also very familiar because they’re also the old legislative leaders.
It doesn’t get much more status quo than that. There was little appetite among House and Senate Republican caucus members to challenge the current leaders.
But all this equanimity isn’t a bad thing. Utah is well-managed with a strong economy and fine leadership. Voters weren’t in the mood to shake things up.
Two events happened Thursday that set the stage for state government in the coming year. Gov.-elect Spencer Cox announced his chief of staff, communications director, and his transition team, and Republican legislators elected leadership teams for the next two years.
Jon Pierpont, former executive director of the Utah Department of Workforce Services, will be Cox’s chief of staff and chief operating officer beginning in January. Jennifer Napier-Pearce, former executive editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, will be appointed as senior advisor to the governor and director of communications.
Interestingly, Cox is reaching back into the Mike Leavitt administration for key members of his transition team, including Lynne Ward, Natalie Gochnour, and Rich McKeown. All of them have years of experience in the governor’s office.
Among his broader team of more than 100 community leaders who will review state agencies and provide recommendations for change are three of his former competitors for the governor’s office, including Jeff Burningham, Aimee Winder Newton, and Thomas Wright.
It’s a good transition team and it will compile a lot of suggestions, although this is a little different situation than would be the case if a brand new governor outside of the current administration was coming in. It’s always good to have fresh eyes look at programs, policies and agency operations, but Cox knows state government well and probably has his own ideas for change.
It will be interesting to see how many personnel changes Cox makes in the existing cabinet-level executives in state government. Often, a new governor will ask everyone to submit a letter of resignation, and then those he or she wants to retain will be re-appointed.
In that other branch of state government, Republican legislators on Thursday chose to go with same leadership teams. Stuart Adams will return as Senate president, with Evan Vickers as majority leader; Daniel Hemmert as majority whip, and Ann Millner as majority assistant whip.
In the House, Brad Wilson returns as speaker; Francis Gibson as majority leader; Mike Schultz as majority whip; and Val Peterson as majority assistant whip.