“Social media is supposed to tear us apart,” Utah Gov. Cox told students on tour

Utah Gov. Cox said the concerns he’s heard from young people are concerns about affordable housing and the cost of going to college.

(Jacob Scholl | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gov. Spencer Cox, center right, is on a listening tour of the state.

Brigham City Utah Governor Spencer Cox climbed out of a black SUV on Tuesday morning under cloudy skies. A group of students and administrators from Box Elder High School await his arrival, some holding a sign that reads “Welcome, Governor Cox!”

His visit to Brigham City High School was the last of his “Connecting Utah” tour of all 29 counties of Utah, meeting with students and residents of the state. Cox removed Cache, Box Elder and Weber from its list of counties on Tuesday.

As part of the tour, he attended Logan’s Green Canyon High School before stopping in Brigham City. Later that day he attended Weber High School in Pleasant View. He attended high schools in Davis, Morgan and Rich counties on Monday.

Cox told The Salt Lake Tribune the concerns he’s heard from high schoolers across the state are mostly the same — concerns about the cost of college and finding affordable housing, for example.

“But I also sense a real optimism in these young people,” said Cox. “They are very intelligent, they get a great education and they have more opportunities than ever before.”

In addition to students, Cox spoke to local and state elected officials during Tuesday’s stay. Those in attendance included Box Elder County Commissioner Lee Perry and Utah Department of Natural Resources executive director Joel Ferry. Both are former state legislators, with Ferry resigning from the legislature last fall after Cox appointed him head of DNR.

Cox said flooding concerns were among the concerns he heard from speaking to people in Rich County Monday and Cache County Tuesday morning.

“In Rich County, you know, they’re losing a lot of cattle right now because there’s so much snow on the ground and there’s flooding concerns,” Cox said. “We certainly hear the flooding concerns everywhere we go.”

For the people of Cache Valley, the concerns he heard were more about housing and growth, and he said, “It’s exploding up there, and we’re seeing so many people moving in.” He said the state is doing everything it can to address it to meet needs and referred to additional funds for affordable housing approved during the last legislature.

After the greeting, students and faculty filled the high school’s auditorium, where Cox took the stage and thanked those in attendance.

Cox continued his push against youth via social media, telling the audience, “I’m hoping that in the next few minutes we can all put these down and connect and have a chat,” while pausing on his phone. Last week, during a news conference, he said he expected legal challenges to two bills aimed at reducing children’s use of social media.

“I think it had a negative impact on my generation as well, but it was certainly more pronounced on your generations,” Cox told students on Tuesday. “We passed two major laws to work to hold social media companies accountable and (and) make sure they can’t apply their addictive algorithms to young people.”

Students asked him about affordable housing, his 2022 veto of the transgender sports law, and why he went into politics.

It has been over a year since the Legislature passed legislation banning transgender youth from participating in school sports that match their gender identity, later overruling Cox’s veto of the law. Despite the bill, trans youth can still play sports because a state judge issued an injunction to prevent the law from going into effect. On Tuesday, Cox said the bill played out the way he envisioned it, with lawmakers overturning their veto and a judge blocking the law.

During his closing remarks, Cox urged students to be civil in disagreements with others when he briefly referenced a video of him circulating at last weekend’s Utah GOP convention.

Jason Preston, a former congressional candidate, confronted Cox about whether Utah is building a “smart city” — an imaginary concept that conspiracy theorists believe the government will force people to live as part of a surveillance state. Cox responded to the confrontation by telling Preston, “You’re really good at it, you make up shit and then you try to make us look bad.”

On Tuesday, Cox expressed some regret at how he had handled the interaction, saying: “Just last weekend someone came and attacked me and I went into attack mode and I have to get better. I’m usually better, but this time I wasn’t.”

“Social media is meant to tear us apart, that’s the whole point,” Cox said in the auditorium on Tuesday. “We post things we never say face to face, but we can do better.”

Justin Scaccy

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