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Gov. Cox drops in to Park City Sunrise Rotary

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox made an appearance at O'Shucks in Pinebrook Thursday.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox made an appearance at O'Shucks in Pinebrook Thursday.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox paid a morning visit to the Park City Sunrise Rotary on Thursday. Over breakfast and reports on the club’s service projects, he shared thoughts on the state’s strengths and challenges. 

The Sunrise Rotary club meets Thursday mornings at O’Shucks in Pinebrook. This week, a special guest rolled in to talk about the state of the union — and had a few words about the Legislature’s role in Summit County’s land use decisions.

After listening to presentations on Rotarians’ service projects – which included feeding homeless youth, road cleanups, Afghan refugee relief and eyeglasses recycling — Governor Cox told the group that such work is the remedy for what ails society.

“What if I were to tell you that what you're doing here today is the solution to all of our problems in this country," he said. "Rotary provides connection. Rotary solves problems that government is struggling to solve. Rotary makes our community and state a better place.”

Communities need more service organizations, he said, as well as participation from younger people. He said research shows Americans are lonelier than ever before. That isolation and loneliness, he said, fuel many of society’s ills, such as addiction and tribalism.

“I like to say if we don't have any real friends, at least we can hate the same people together on Facebook," he said. "And that's sadly kind of where we've ended up, and politics has become a substitute for real connection and healthy connection. And involvement in politics is really good and healthy societies have involvement in politics. But when politics becomes our religion, we start to see everything through the lens of politics, then we are entering the early stages of a failed state.”

Cox steered clear of hot button political topics — with one exception. Without using the name HB462, he referenced the Legislature’s controversial 2022 housing bill. HB462 includes a provision requiring Summit County to establish a Housing and Transit Reinvestment Zone, or HTRZ, which could pave the way for dense development in the Kimball Junction area against county residents’ and officials’ wishes.

On that subject, Cox called Utah’s skyrocketing housing prices devastating. Alleviating that crisis requires more supply, which means denser development, he said, and NIMBYism — not in my backyard sentiment — won’t cut it anymore.

“The other place where we need your help is just to have some ‘yes in my backyard’ mentality and to try to say, not every development is a four letter word. Not every development is the end of our communities. So I know that's gonna piss some people off, and I'm sorry, otherwise you will have the Legislature coming in as they did, and saying, ‘Sorry, we're gonna start approving these developments.’ You can either do it and mold it and do it the right way. Or you can say no to everything. And then the state will come in and start saying yes to things and that's probably going to end up worse for you.”

Addressing the related crisis of Utah’s worker shortage, Cox said the answer is legal immigration.

“There is broad agreement amongst both Republicans and Democrats about securing the border and slowing down or stopping illegal immigration, but then increasing legal immigration, which would solve our problems," Cox said. "We have to change the narrative. And we could do it if politicians weren't trying to divide us for their own benefits, and that's where the change has to happen. I do think that Utah can be a leader. We've done that on refugees. We want people to come to our country.”

Cox peppered his talk with book and magazine recommendations, along with some pop culture. His bout with COVID last month provided downtime to finally check out the television show “Stranger Things.” He said he binge-watched the first three seasons in four days as his wife sent food to the basement of the governor’s mansion by putting it in an empty elevator.