Wednesday, September 9, 2015

IOGP Profile: Jon Cox, Communications Director for Gov. Herbert

A Political Career: Jon Cox

Jon Cox, the director of communications for Gov. Gary Herbert, will speak to Utah State University students on Sept.10 about his career in politics, and how students can best pursue their own career. He will speak at 5:30 p.m. in Old Main 304.

Jon, 32, and his wife, Ellie, have three girls — all of which were born or adopted within a seven-month period. The two oldest girls, Epuri (7) and Nawook (5) were adopted from Uganda, where Ellie had previously founded an orphanage. The youngest girl, Eva, is 2-years-old.

Jon graduated from USU in 2006 with a degree in journalism and a minor in accounting. He also has a Master’s degree in history from the University of Utah. He was appointed as Gov. Herbert’s Director of Communications earlier this summer. Prior to that, he served as a member of the Utah House of Representatives.

Prior to his visit to campus, Jon answered questions via email for the IOGP.

IOGP: Can you explain your current position? 
JC: As the Director of Communications, I am a member of the governor's senior leadership team. In addition to serving as the governor's spokesman, I help craft all communications from the governor's office to the media. We also help oversee the communications of all state agencies with the media. 

IOGP: What has been the most surprising and/or difficult challenge about being the spokesperson? 
JC: I previously served as a county commissioner and state representative here in the state. Having won three different elections, I am used to speaking on-the-record and under pressure. The main difference is that then I was a free agent, and now I'm not. It's easy speaking for yourself, but making sure that your comments directly align with someone else (while still maintaining your personality) takes some work. 

IOGP: What do you enjoy most about being the spokesperson?
JC: I am a long view kind of person, and so strategy is what I enjoy most about my job. I like to think through various scenarios of how an issue could play out over time. Maybe it's still the historian in me, but if journalism really is the rough draft of history, I want to make sure I keep the day-to-day events of a news cycle in proportion. 

Photo Cred: "Governor Appoints Jon Cox to
Utah House" by"
IOGP: You were considered a rising star in the Legislature and had enough experience to make a move into major leadership roles. Why did you decide to leave the Legislature for the governor's office?
JC: I think most everyone in the Legislature assumes they are a rising star, so I suppose you never really know until the votes are cast in a leadership race. I loved my time in the Legislature, and I will always treasure the friendships that I made during those two years. But in the Legislature, I was 1 of 104. Now, with a handful of others, I get to be in the room with the governor when he makes major decisions. I'm guessing it must be the inner athlete in him, but Governor Herbert is very open to a competition of ideas among his senior staff. He encourages alternative viewpoints and appreciates being challenged. I have found that type of setting to be incredibly fulfilling as he makes critical decisions for Utah's future. 

IOGP: You served an internship with former U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, while at USU. How did your political internship help you in your political career?
JC: It opened up my eyes to the world of politics and led me directly into a four-year stint as a staff member for Senator Bennett. Without that internship opportunity from USU, I would have never pursued that path and likely not become involved in politics so early in life. 

IOGP: What advice would you give a college student considering a career in politics?
JC: Read. Politics is primarily a competition of ideas, and if you don't have many ideas you won't get very far in the field. The big, foundational ideas in my life that have motivated and guided me have almost always come from a book--usually one I read without being assigned by a teacher to do so. If you tell yourself that you'll begin reading recreationally once you finish a difficult semester, then don't be surprised when that day never comes. Difficult semesters turn into difficult jobs, which turn into marriages (hopefully not as difficult) and kids (definitely difficult). Having three kids in less than a year, I'm probably not the best resource for parenting tips — but I will say that reading has remained a priority for me even in the busiest of times because it was a priority for me way back in college. 

IOGP: What is your favorite memory from your time at USU? 
JC: We spent a lot of time playing practical jokes on each other back then. One of our favorites took place in the old Merrill Library. We would find a book with an embarrassing title and place it in a friend's backpack. When that friend would walk out of the library the alarm would go off, and they would have to explain to the library staff why they were trying to sneak out a book entitled, "Raging Hormones: Do They Control Our Lives?" A decade after the fact, I hope the USU librarians will accept my belated apology.

IOGP: Anything else you want to add?
JC: I loved my time at Utah State. Over the years — and especially as a college professor — I have tried my best to remember what life was like as a college student. Trying to sort through several major life decisions all at the same time can be a little overwhelming, but life as a college student is also a time of such excitement and possibility. You only get to be a college student once, and I believe I absolutely made the most of it. 

Interviewed by Josh Loftin.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Five Ways Donations Make a Difference

How Giving Back to the IOGP helps Future Interns
D.C. interns at an education seminar with IOGP
Director Neil Abercrombie

1. Students rely on you. Many students worry that internships are an investment they simply can't afford. Many phenomenal internships are unpaid and cost of living back east can be a struggle for students. Your support can help students feel confident in accepting internships that will better their lives.

2. You support exceptional students. Your donations are going towards some of the brightest students on campus. The internship process is competitive; as a result, top tier individuals are selected to represent Utah State in Washington, D.C., and Salt Lake.

Our USU interns for the 2015 Legislative Session
in Salt Lake City
3. With your help, minds are expanded. Internships are the most beneficial and influential part of a student’s education. For many students, these are essential steps to finding a job after graduation. Outside the walls of Old Main, Aggies are able to gain a broader view of who they are, how they can give back, and a better understanding of future opportunities.

4. You affect America’s future. One-fourth of the interns we place are majoring in Political Science; the rest come from a variety of majors across campus. Students understand the impact of government in every industry. Participating in an internship expands understanding of government processes, allowing our Aggies to become better-informed citizens and better-equipped leaders in their careers.

Aggies enjoying the Fourth of July celebrations in
D.C. last summer
5. The IOGP depends on you. IOGP scholarships are limited to the amount of donations received. Only with your help can the IOGP fulfill its mission to enhance understanding of government institutions and the political process with opportunities that bridge practical skills and academic learning.

For more ways to help fund USU students' internships, donate online.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Student's Perspective: Interning at the Utah Legislature

Q&A with Shaundra Lembke, intern for Utah Senator Brian Shiozawa (R, Cottonwood Heights).

Shaundra and Sen. Shiozawa
Photo cred: Utah Senate Facebook Page
 What has been your overall internship experience?
My internship was amazing. I could not have asked for a better legislator to work with. I was able to sit in on important meetings with influential people and see how everyone involved wants to make a difference.

What was the most surprising aspect of your internship?
I expected to see much more head-to-head politics from beginning to end. The public can have such negative views about the legislators and the process. My experience proved to be different: the interactions, disagreements, and agreements were usually professional. They respect each other and really want to get something done that is best for the state of Utah. The public may not like what is passed, but should understand they’re all trying to produce the best proposal that satisfy the diverse opinions and needs of the people.

What was the most challenging part?
Reading the Senators mind? (laughs) You really need to pay attention to what is going on and who is involved in your particular bills and processes.  Every day was exciting and different. I needed to be ready when something or someone is needed that we did not anticipate.

How did the reality of your internship experience differ from your expectations?
Sen. Shiozawa (bottom right) and Shaundra (center)
championing the cause of birthdays.
Photo cred: Utah Senate Facebook Page
The legislators come from a variety of backgrounds. Each of their own careers and experience benefit the process and iron out the bad legislation. Because sometimes there is bad legislation that perhaps the sponsor and supporters only see one side of. But everything had consequences, good or bad. Senator Shiozawa worked a lot on Healthy Utah. The reality is that there were politics happening, mostly in the end, in order to get something passed for the expansion of Medicaid. It was difficult to see some legislators unwilling to lean one way or the other when something clearly needs to be addressed.

What are some tips you would give to future interns?
Stay on top of what is going on during the session. The more you know the more you can help. Go in with respect to your legislator. You will learn so much from the places and meetings you get to attend. Be discreet with the conversations you are privy to. Most of all, if you’re considering an internship: do it.  You'll never have so much fun learning about politics.

Shaundra Lembke is a History major and is graduating from Utah State in May.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Interning at the Utah Legislature: More than glorified Diet Coke runs

USU has nearly two dozens interns scrambling in the halls of the Utah Legislature, and they aren't just fetching Diet Coke for their bosses.
In the frenzy of the 45 day session, legislative interns become many things for their legislator(s). They become a second set of eyes that can research the dozens of bills that will be considered by a standing committee. They become a second pair of legs that can run errands, an extra hand to greet visiting student groups, an extra set of ears of to listen to constituent concerns. In other words, they have a deeply immersive experience that moves at the speed of, well, the speed of the Legislature.
For those interns helping members of leadership, they become something immensely more valuable.
"I'm often a fly on the wall in major meetings, discussing major issues," said junior Sierra Tilley of Brigham City, who is the intern for House Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville.
Those meetings, in particular, have revolved around the Healthy Utah proposal and include all of the political heavyweights in Utah. By way of example, as she talked to us about her experience, Gov. Gary Herbert, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and other cabinet members arrived for a meeting she would soon join, as a fly.
"The biggest thing I've learned as an intern is just how well people work together. They really collaborate to accomplish things. It's a beautiful thing to watch," Tilley said.
Legislators work extremely long hours during the session, which provides interns a lot of opportunities to learn on their feet.
"They can't hold your hands through the process. You need to anticipate their needs, and be willing to jump on a project without them telling you what to do every step of the way," said Sarah Clark, a senior from Mt. Pleasant who is working with Sen. Kevin Van Tassel, R-Vernal.
Some interns, such as junior Hailee Housley of Richmond, work for multiple legislators; in Housley's case, it's Rep. Steve Chew, R-Jensen, and Rep. Jon Cox, R-Ephraim. That has kept her very busy, something that somewhat surprised her.
"I didn't expect to be as involved as I am," she said. "I thought I'd be more in the background, but instead I've been really involved. It gets you excited, and really makes you want to become more active in the whole process."
You can learn more about internship opportunities in state government, Washington D.C. and other places.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

IOGP Partners with Exoro Group on Opinion Poll

Poll numbers released Friday illustrate the need for legislators to educate Utah residents about the most important issues they will face during the upcoming session.
The Utah State University Institute of Government and Politics partnered with the Exoro Group on the poll, which was conducted by Dan Jones & Associates and released Friday during the Exoro Group’s Legislative Policy Summit. Polling data was collected from a random sample of 715 registered voters between Dec. 22 and Jan. 10. It has a margin of error of 3.6 percent, with a 5.2 percent margin of error on questions where the sample was split.
Dr. Damon Cann, associate professor at USU
Top-shelf issues the Legislature will tackle during the 45-day session that begins Jan. 26 include a proposed increase in the gas tax and the expansion of Medicaid. Poll numbers, however, show that many residents have little familiarity with the issues or the arguments surrounding them. The Healthy Utah Plan, in particular, confused many poll respondents. When asked if they knew about the proposal, 44 percent has no awareness and another 44 percent said they had little understanding of the issue. Because of that, any poll numbers about public support or opposition for the Healthy Utah Plan carry little weight, said Damon Cann, an associate professor in the USU Political Science Department. Cann presented the poll numbers to more than 200 legislators, policy makers, lobbyists, journalists and keynote speaker Karl Rove during the Policy Summit.
“When you see 44% of people don’t even know what it is, you have to be really careful about using public opinion to formulate public policy," Cann said to the group.
The increased gas tax, which legislative supporters argue is needed to fund road and other infrastructure improvement, had a large number of respondents without an opinion on the issue.
“The large number of neutrals shows that people don’t really understand what needs to be done,” Cann said. “There needs to be substantial education for the public.”
Cann spoke for nearly 30 minutes about the poll, which also included questions about education funding and other legislative issues, statewide political races, and the political party caucus system.
We will continue to release analysis of the numbers on the IOGP blog as the Legislature’s general session progresses. Like our Facebook page for a link in the next few days to the poll numbers presentation.

Monday, November 3, 2014

IOGP Election Guide - Five Races to Watch

Tomorrow is Election Day, and while the midterms lack the drama of a presidential race or hotly-contested statewide offices, there will still be some Utah legislative races to monitor. Here they are:

Five Local Races to Watch

Utah House Congressional District 4: Mia Love (R) vs. Doug Owens (D)
The latest Utah Policy poll (conducted by Dan Jones and Associates) has Mia leading by 48% to 43%, with 6% undecided. Mia is a former Mayor of Saratoga Springs. Doug is an attorney in Salt Lake City and the son of former Utah Congressman Wayne Owens.

Utah Senate District 4 (East SL County): Jani Iwamoto (D) vs. Sabrina Petersen (R)
Senate D4 primarily covers the Millcreek and Holladay areas of Salt Lake County. Incumbent Pat Jones (D) is not running for re-election. In 2012, Sen. Jones took 56% of the vote against the republican’s 43%. Jani Iwamoto is a former member of the Salt Lake County Council and Sabrina Petersen is currently on the Holladay City Council.

House District 31 (West Valley): Rep. Larry Wiley (D) vs. Sophia DiCaro (R)
Rep. Wiley won 50.5% to 49.5% - less than a 1,000 votes – in 2012. Rep. Wiley was first elected to the House in 2008 and currently serves on the House Rules Committee and Natural Resources and Ag Appropriations subcommittee. DiCaro has worked for the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget and Governor’s Office of Economic Development.
House District 44 (Murray): Christine Passey (D) vs. Bruce Cutler (R)
Incumbent Tim Cosgrove (D) is not running for re-election. In 2012, Rep. Cosgrove took 55% of the vote. Cutler has a computer science degree from the Unviersity of Utah and has served on the Murray School Board. Christine has been active in grassroots advocacy, especially for children with autism.
House District 69 (Carbon and Duchesne County): Brad King (D) vs. Bill Labrum (R)
Brad King served in the Utah Legislature from 1997 to 2008, serving in House Minority Leadership during most of that tenure. Brad has recently retired after 33 years working for USU Eastern. Bill Labrum defeated incumbent Jerry Anderson and former legislator Christine Watkins in the 2014 republican primary.
Five National Senate Races to Watch
Currently the U.S. Senate includes 53 Democrats and 45 Republicans with 2 Independent Senators (both caucus with the Democrats). There are a number of Senate races to watch that will be key to determine which party will be in control fo the Senate for the 114th Congress. We’ve highlighted five of these races:
Arkansas: Sen Mark Pryor (D) vs. Tom Cotton (R)
Arkansas is becoming more Republican (recently gaining a majority in the General Assembly in 2012), and Sen. Pryor is being challenged by Rep. Cotton, a well-liked congressman from Southern Arkansas. polling has Cotton ahead by 5.1 points.
Colorado: Sen. Mark Udall (D) vs. Cory Gardner (R)
Sen. Udall’s approval ratings have dropped with the President’s, and Cory Gardner is a rising star within the Republican Party. polling has Garnder ahead by 1.9 points.
Georgia: David Perdue (R) vs. Michelle Nunn (D)
Georgia leans right, giving Perdue an edge, but Democrats in the state are excited about Nunn’s chances of ending the party’s 14-year dry spell in the Senate. polling has Perdue ahead by 1.2 points.
Iowa: Bruce Braley (D) vs. Joni Ernst (R)
Looking to fill the open seat left by Sen. Tom Harkin, democrats settled on Rep. Braley (whose campaign has been beset by gaffes), and republicans chose state Sen. Ernst (while some hold reservations about her ability in the seat). polling has Ernst ahead by 1.2 points.
Kansas: Sen. Pat Roberts (R) vs. Greg Orman (I)
Kansas is a red state, but Orman running as an independent has led to a stiff head-to-head polling battle between the two. polling has Orman ahead by 0.2 points.
Top sites to view viewing election results and the latest polling information on the 2014 midterm elections:

Friday, September 5, 2014

Lt. Governor Spencer Cox to speak at USU

For his ice-bucket challenge, he jumped a bike into a mountain lake -- twice. He can rap the lyrics to Ice Baby, and has done so publicly. He plays the bass guitar in a local band.

Oh, and Spencer Cox also has a nice title: Utah lieutenant governor.

On Tuesday, Sept. 9, Lt. Gov. Cox will host the first policy forum for the Institute of Government & Politics at 5:30 P.M. in ESLC 046. (Full schedule for the series is found here).

Cox, a USU alumnus who went to law school at Washington & Lee University, gave an entertaining presentation last year about social media and politics. In front of a crowd, he can shine, as attendees at a recent tech conference learned, when he mixed self-effacing jokes and the aforementioned rap into his speech on tech in Utah.

For more on Cox, you can read a profile in the Deseret News, scan this list of recommended books on Utah Politico Hub, and visit the LG's website. Cox stays very active on Twitter, as well.