IVINS, Utah — In a ceremony fitting of the times we live in, Governor Spencer Cox and Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson were inaugurated in front of a small crowd that sat with masks on and separated from each other.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the ceremony to be held outdoors. Guests who attended were required to test negative for the deadly virus. They were also required to wear masks and sit a distance apart from each other. (The governor's office told FOX 13 that 478 people attended, with an additional 13 not allowed to come because their test results came back positive.)
In addition to Gov. Cox and Lt. Gov. Henderson, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, Auditor John Dougall and Treasurer David Damschen were sworn in.
Gov. Cox also moved the inauguration events away from Capitol Hill to the Tuacahn Center for the Arts here in Ivins to include rural Utahns, which he said will become a bigger focus in his administration.
Throughout his remarks, Gov. Cox focused on a theme of unity. He noted the COVID-19 pandemic and the state of politics that have brought out the best and worst in everyone.
"With a global pandemic raging, we have learned that our people are smarter than we could have ever imagined, as scientists, chemists and medical professionals developed and mastered new technologies to create multiple life-saving vaccines in record time," he said. "And yet, at a time when we have more knowledge at our fingertips than any generation in history, we have somehow become more susceptible to disinformation, conspiracy theories and lies as too often we all struggle to find accurate sources of truth and unbiased information."
The new governor said Utahns have come together to help each other in times of need, but acknowledged people are divided.
"Hateful rhetoric dominates our political discourse. We are facing a crisis of empathy, a scourge of contempt. Very little feels 'united' about the United States today," he said.
Gov. Cox called for Utahns to come together, even when they disagree.
"At times our hands may hang down and our hearts may fail us, but even when we feel tired, we must never give up. In Utah we never give up. It’s our turn to write the next chapter of Utah’s history and prove that yes indeed our greatest days still lie ahead," he said.
In her remarks, Lt. Gov. Henderson pledged the new administration would be more inclusive. But she insisted it would not be a "token."
"We don’t need more women in the public sphere solely to provide expert opinions on women’s issues. We don’t need more people of color in the halls of government only to help us resolve issues related to minorities. And we don’t need more rural Utahns serving in our administration simply to help the people in their hometowns," she told the crowd. "We need more women, minorities, and rural Utahns speaking up about every aspect of how our state is run. There will be no token leadership at our table."
After the ceremony, Gov. Cox and Lt. Gov. Henderson traveled to Fillmore, the site of Utah's first territorial capital. There, they made their first "official action" and signed an executive order to review occupational licenses to see if many are still necessary, while preserving health and safety. The order is intended to "remove barriers to licensing and limit unnecessary government regulation."
They also signed on to Utah's Compact on Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. It was a document Gov. Gary Herbert crafted after meeting with minority communities following months of protests against racism and police brutality. Gov. Cox said he wanted to carry on those ideals.
Gov. Cox said Monday he would also launch a review of Utah's COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan. While the state is at the mercy of the federal government for getting doses, the new governor has complained that Utah could move faster in distributing what it has. He said some vaccine doses have been sitting on shelves.
"The goal is to get them out as soon as they come into the state. That they can exhaust our weekly supply, the week it received," he told FOX 13.