- Associated Press - Sunday, July 6, 2014

FAIRVIEW, Utah (AP) - Spencer Cox once turned down Harvard for a less glamorous school and walked away from a lucrative job with a law firm to move back to his boyhood farm. So maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that he came within minutes of turning down an offer to be Utah’s lieutenant governor.

Getting the lieutenant governor job is like winning the lottery in politics, and he was only 38 and a rookie state legislator to boot. Yet he came this close to saying no, and the reason he almost said no can be found in Fairview, population 1,300.

The Coxes live in a Norman Rockwell painting. Sitting close together on the family room couch, Spencer and his wife Abby can see their four children - Gavin 15, Kaleb 13, Adam 10, Emma Kate 7 - out the large back window racing around the family’s fields on four-wheelers as they do their chores, chased by a convoy of dogs under blue skies and sunshine.

This is why Cox took the huge pay cuts and left the big city and the law firm and a promising law career. This is why he serves as lieutenant governor while living in Fairview and not Salt Lake City. Living in the city didn’t offer many opportunities for their kids to learn to work.

In 2003, at the age of 28, Cox packed it all in and went home again to take over the family business. He moved from the big city back to the farm town of his youth, where the biggest thing in the community is the annual demolition derby, for which the locals camp out to buy tickets.

For 11 years, the Coxes got exactly what they wanted out of the bargain - the farm, chores for the kids, a dream home, more family time. Then the governor called and offered him the lieutenant governor’s job. Anyone else would have been dancing in the small lane that passes below the Cox home.

Cox cried.

Spencer and Abby were both raised in large families on farms in the area, 10 miles apart. They began dating after he graduated from high school and married shortly after he returned from serving a LDS Church mission in Mexico.

They both graduated from Snow College and Utah State.

He was accepted by Harvard Law, but chose Washington and Lee University instead because “I just knew I was supposed to be there.” He was hired by the Salt Lake law firm of Fabian and Clendenin. After a few years, he was on track to make partner. The Coxes settled into a subdivision in Kaysville. Four children arrived.

Then they began to question what they were doing.

“That third boy really threw me,” says Abby. “I didn’t know what I was going to do with these boys. I worked on a farm. I saw our little quarter acre in Kaysville and wondered how am I going to teach these boys to work?”

If all that weren’t enough, Cox’s father, Eddie, invited him to run the family business in Fairview.

Spencer not only took a 25 percent pay cut by leaving the law firm, he gave up the chance to make partner and left a bonus that was nearly as much as his yearly salary at the family telecommunications company.

Long hours at the law firm had left him little time at home; now he was coaching his kids’ baseball, basketball and football teams and he was home for dinner. The Coxes were surrounded by family, with his father’s home a couple of football fields away from his back door, his brother’s home next door and other relatives nearby.

“Life was good,” he says. “We loved it.”

Then politics called and complicated his bucolic plans.

Cox was appointed to fill a vacancy on the city council for nine months and that was the beginning. He was voted in as mayor and then county commissioner and finally state representative.

Then Gov. Gary Herbert called him, ostensibly to ask for input on candidates to replace Lt. Gov. Greg Bell, who was resigning to address personal financial problems. After Cox suggested several candidates to Herbert, the governor said, “What about you?” No one saw that one coming. Cox had served in the state legislature less than a year. Now he was being considered for an office that could be a stepping stone to the governor’s office.

“I had won the lottery in the eyes of everyone else,” says Cox. “This was an incredible opportunity out of nowhere.”

But he was not happy about it. It was, he says, “almost devastating. There were sleepless nights. We had the perfect life, everything we dreamed of. In the interview, the governor said, ‘You’re going to have to move your family to Salt Lake City if you do this.’ Abby and I looked at each other. I said, ‘That’s probably a deal-breaker for us. I felt like we were supposed to move back here (Fairview) for a reason, and I still feel that way.’”

He told the governor he could do the job from Fairview. He would simply commute the 100 miles to Salt Lake City since the position would require him to travel frequently no matter where he lived, and he and Abby had family in the area to help with the children. But Cox was still conflicted; it would also mean being gone for the dance recitals and Little League games.

One afternoon he was sitting on the steps of his home, waiting for his daughter to return from school, as he often did. He watched her as she stepped off the bus and walked up the driveway toward the door, her backpack slung over her shoulders.

“I just sobbed,” he remembers. “I thought, ‘I can’t miss this.’ At that point I was ready to call the governor. I was 15 minutes away from calling him and telling him no.”

He walked to his parents’ home to discuss the dilemma with Eddie and his stepmother. “I asked him for a blessing and then we had a good chat,” he says. “They told me they’d pick up the slack at home, that we were all in this together.”

Since taking the position in October, he has tried to meet the demands of his office with the needs of home. Most days he simply commutes to Salt Lake City. He is gone all day during the week and sometimes on Saturday. He usually spends one night a week in Salt Lake City.

“I don’t coach the teams and don’t see (Emma Kate) walk up to the door,” he says, “but I tuck the kids in at night and see them in the morning.”

Since taking office, Cox is frequently asked the obvious question: Now that the lieutenant governor’s job has fallen into his lap, does he aspire for the governor’s office in two years?

“If you have political ambitions, you don’t move to Fairview,” he says. “Greg Bell told me this: We serve as long as the people want us, then we go back to our lives. We don’t define ourselves by our positions. Because I was never expected to be here, I don’t have that baggage. I’m playing with house money. This far exceeded my expectations. If this is it, then what a ride, and I can’t wait to get back to my family.”

___

Information from: Deseret News, https://www.deseretnews.com

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