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Spencer Cox says he has ‘no choice but to agree’ with Gov. Gary Herbert on mask mandates

“I’m still the lieutenant governor,” Cox, the Republican nominee to replace Herbert as governor, said during a candidate forum Wednesday. “I have no choice but to agree with the actions of the governor. And, look, I think there is wisdom in that.”

“The latest spike is maybe testament that we need to maybe do a little bit more as a government, unfortunately,” Henderson, a Spanish Fork Republican, told The Salt Lake Tribune earlier this week.

However, during Wednesday’s forum with the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, Cox said there is some merit in avoiding a blanket approach to face coverings. Cox joked that in Sanpete County, where his family has lived for generations, people have been practicing social distancing for 160 years.

“So it certainly is different in different parts of the state,” Cox said. “And we can work closely together to make the right decisions.”

Peterson and Cox didn’t interact directly during Wednesday’s hourlong virtual forum and separately fielded questions posed by the moderator, the Hinckley Institute’s Jason Perry. During his portion of the forum, Peterson said he believes local governments should generally make decisions for their communities, but added that this model doesn’t work for every situation.

“It’s appropriate in an emergency for the … governor’s office to engage in pretty direct action to take care of people and prevent the contagion of this dangerous disease,” said Peterson, who will face Cox on the November ballot.

The Democrat, a University of Utah law professor, clarified that he’s not arguing that a farmer or rancher in the middle of nowhere needs to wear a mask while working outdoors. Still, there’s a place for commonsense restrictions that lead the state in the right direction during the current public health and economic emergency, he said.

Cox called the spiking case numbers “very troubling” and said state leaders have consulted health experts including state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn about how to tamp down the surge. The advice Herbert and others have received is that we be as surgical as possible,” the lieutenant governor said.

Moreover, as the pandemic has worn on, Herbert has shifted away from emergency directives that circumvent the Legislature and suspend state statutes, he said.

“The governor isn’t a dictator,” Cox said. “And so what you see is now … it’s bringing people together to help make those decisions.”

The question of Cox’s stance on mask mandates has cropped up several times in recent months. At one point, the lieutenant governor declined The Tribune’s requests for an interview on his position. Then, in a late August interview, Cox said he supported Herbert’s decision against ordering face coverings across the state.

“The constitution sets those terms, not the politics of the day,” the statement continued.

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