SALT LAKE CITY — Governor-elect Spencer Cox announced his plans as he prepares to take office, including a transition team that will examine every state agency and plans to put education in the state as the top priority.
But facing the newly-elected governor is the COVID-19 pandemic and how he will handle it when he takes office in January.
During a news conference on Thursday on Capitol Hill, Governor Gary Herbert praised Cox, who currently serves as his lieutenant governor. Cox won election with roughly 64% of the vote, according to the latest numbers.
As ballots continue to be counted, Gov. Herbert praised elections officials across the state noting the difference between how Utah has handled elections and other states. There are roughly 400,000 ballots still being counted in Utah.
"Our clerks do a wonderful job in making sure that every vote counts and it’s counted accurately," the governor said.
Cox thanked Utahns for their support and said he learned a lot from them as he traveled the state during his campaign.
"I have learned more than I ever expected about Utah and her people and the absolute goodness they embody that permeates every corner of our state from the smallest towns to the biggest cities," he said.
Governor-elect Cox and Lt. Governor-elect Deidre Henderson announced plans to review every single state agency during the transition of power.
"A new administration really is the perfect time to take a fresh look, it’s a great time to see if there are better ways to do things, to streamline, to modernize operations and to get the best services and bang for the buck for Utah’s taxpayers," Henderson said.
Education will be a top priority of the Cox-Henderson administration, the two said to reporters on Thursday.
"We will have a group looking at equity in education and other issues that are important. One is how to get more women involved in government, we will have a group looking at that," Cox said.
But immediately facing the new governor is the COVID-19 pandemic. On Thursday, Utah saw its highest number of cases and hospitalizations. Cox, who previously led the state's COVID-19 task force, was pressed on what he would do differently than Gov. Herbert.
He told FOX 13 that when he takes office in January, the federal government anticipates a vaccine being available.
"I suspect that will be a huge piece of our response," the governor-elect said. "We’ve been told that we will have over the next few weeks, a significant influx of testing supplies. I’ve always believed the gold standard is rapid surveillance testing, asymptomatic testing, if we could hundreds of thousands of those every week we’d be able to get ahead of the virus, quarantine those that are exposed."
Lt. Gov.-elect Henderson is still recovering from COVID-19, which she contracted several months ago. She told reporters she still requires supplemental oxygen.
"I believe the state has taken this virus seriously and yes, my experience with the coronavirus definitely does shape the way I see the direction we need to go," she said. "I don’t believe we have gone in the wrong direction at all. The people of the state of Utah need to remember this virus is indiscriminate, it doesn’t matter necessarily your age or your underlying health conditions. It can hit you, and hit you hard."
The Cox-Henderson administration on Thursday announced some key hires: former Utah Dept. of Workforce Services director Jon Pierpont will serve as Cox's chief of staff. Former Salt Lake Tribune editor Jennifer Napier-Pearce will serve as the administration's director of communications.
Members of the transition team include: Lynne Ward, former deputy chief of staff for former Utah Gov. Olene Walker; Larry H. Miller Group CEO Steve Starks; campaign manager Austin Cox; Natalie Gochnour, the director of the University of Utah's Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute; and Rich McKeown, the former chief of staff to Gov. Mike Leavitt.
Cox also tapped former political rivals for the governor's office to advise him. They include Salt Lake County Council member Aimee Winder Newton, businessman Jeff Burningham and former Utah GOP chairman Thomas Wright. Others advising him include former Utah congresswoman Mia Love; Herbert advisor Pamela Atkinson; DABC commissioner Sophia DiCaro; former commerce director Francine Giani; FJ Management CEO Crystal Maggelet (which owns Flying J and Maverik); St. George Mayor Jon Pike; and Byron Russell, who co-chairs the Governor's Multicultural Commission.