Swapping branches: Moving between Utah’s Legislature and the Herbert Administration

Jon Cox resigned his seat in the Utah House on July 8 to take a job in Governor Gary Herbert’s office as Communications Director. Cox is a savvy and likable hand and he’ll do well in the new job.

He won’t be the first legislator to join the Herbert Administration, however (nor the first Cox. In addition to Spencer Cox, the LG and Jon’s fourth cousin, the Director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget is Kristin Cox, though she is not related, at least directly, to the other two. This is what we call in political appointment parlance soccer a “hat trick” for Governor Herbert). Others have successfully made the transition, too. Indeed, the Utah Legislature has proven to be fertile ground from which Herbert has plucked good talent for his administration.

Flowing the other direction, from the executive branch to the legislature, a stint in Governor Herbert’s Administration has been a valuable stepping stone to a successful run for the Utah Legislature.

Here are a few of the other former members of the Utah Legislature, or current members, that have successfully made the transition from the legislative branch to the executive, and visa versa.

From the Legislature to the Executive Branch
Swapping branches: Moving between Utah's Legislature and the Herbert Administration
Utah Lieutenant Governor Spencer J. Cox

Spencer J. Cox, Lieutenant Governor. With his name listed in General Authority format (an eye to a future career, perhaps?), Cox was one of the first Republicans, if not the first, to call for the resignation of then Attorney General John Swallow in 2013. When then Lieutenant Governor Greg Bell resigned, Cox was the last call Herbert made to take the job (and thank heavens! Rumor has it he was at the bottom of the list…jk, Spencer. I’m sure there was at least one name below yours).

Todd Kiser, Utah Commissioner of Insurance. After 10 years in the Utah Legislature from House District 41, Kiser was appointed by Herbert to be Utah Commissioner of Insurance.

Julie Fisher, Director of Utah Department of Heritage & Arts. Fisher entered the Utah House of Representatives in 2005, representing District 17 until she was appointed to the cabinet level position by Herbert in 2011.

Swapping branches: Moving between Utah's Legislature and the Herbert Administration
John Valentine served in the Utah Legislature for over two decades before appointment to the Utah Tax Commission.

John Valentine, Chair of the Utah Tax Commission. Prior to his appointment to the Utah Tax Commission last year, Valentine served in both houses of the Utah Legislature for a total of twenty-six years, including a stint as President of the Senate. Although occasionally mentioned as a candidate for the US Senate and an exemplar of the statesman-like nature of the Senate (or “old-fashioned,” according to approximately 75 unnamed sources in the Utah House), Valentine might be better known for his support of the “Zion Curtain.” (No, that’s not a hike in Zion National Park).

Holly “on the Hill” Richardson, Department of Energy, Marketing & Communications LeadHolly has a long and storied history in Utah politics. In addition to one of the early and popular blogs in Utah politics, Holly served one term in the Utah House before resigning to work on Dan Liljenquist’s 2012 campaign for the US Senate. (Full disclosure: Holly is a regular contributor to Utah Politico Hub and a named member of the Hub management board).

Pat Jones, Board of RegentsJones is well-liked and well-connected. A member of Utah’s ultraminority, she retired from the Utah Senate after four years in the House followed by eight years in the Senate. Jones has been active in promoting the cause of women as candidates for public office and was appointed to the Board of Regents earlier this year.

Swapping branches: Moving between Utah's Legislature and the Herbert Administration
John Dougall served in the Utah House for 10 years before running as “Frugal Dougall” for State Auditor. He won and took office in 2014.

John Dougall, State Auditor. Okay, so John wasn’t poached by the Governor, but he did get his start in the Utah Legislature before election as State Auditor. Dougall was elected in 2003 and served ten years in the Utah House where he earned the nom de guerre “Representative No” for his tendency to vote…no. He’s gone from being Uber Dougall in the House to Uber Dougall in the Auditor’s office.

Ron Bigelow, Executive Director of Office of Planning and Budget (resigned)First elected in 1995, Ron Bigelow was poached by Herbert in 2010 to run the Governor’s budget until Bigelow successfully ran for West Valley City Mayor. West Valley City was the winner in that transaction.

Jon Cox, Communications Director. Cox began life, politically speaking, in former Senator Bob Bennett’s office and was appointed to the Utah House when his cousin Spencer (see above) resigned. Rumor has it that the fourth cousins will be “car pooling” to the Capitol.


I’m not sure who will get to wear the gloves, but hopefully they can keep warm in the winter months. (And is the name on the brief case ‘Herbert” or “Samsonite”?).

From Executive Branch to the Legislature

While some may complain that the Governor is “raiding some of the best House members for himself” (I’m looking at you, Rep. Brian King), the Executive Branch has traded a few back to the House to compensate.

Swapping branches: Moving between Utah's Legislature and the Herbert Administration
Rep. Robert Spendlove, Utah House District 49, formerly of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget

Robert Spendlove, House District 49. Before he decided to go into sausage making, Spendlove was, variously, policy director and director of federal relations, chief economist and state demographer, and a research analyst in the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget. A numbers guy, his summer reading list from 2014 was soooo exciting that I fell asleep just looking at it.

Sophia DiCaro, House District 31. DiCaro came into the Utah Legislature from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, where she was a Deputy Director, in 2014 after a nail-biter win, taking her seat after a final count of vote-by-mail ballots put her ahead.

Norm Thurston, House District 64. Thurston has worked for the Utah Department of Health since 2003, and today is the Director of the Office of Health Care Statistics. Contrary to what Rolly may say, he never had a stare down with Speaker Hughes…yet.

Lesson Learned? It’s good to be a Cox

Thinking about the paths between the Legislature and the Execution has led me to at least one conclusion:  it doesn’t hurt is to have the last name Cox, at least in Utah. In addition to the trifecta mentioned in the second paragraph, another Cox (Austin) is the Governor’s Constituent Services Director, and Fred Cox, from West Valley City, is a member of the Utah Legislature. I guess you could say that the family (or just the last name) is hitting above its weight.

Karen Peterson contributed to this post.

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