In November, Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer J. Cox was named Best Utahn in our annual Best of Utah issue. As far as I can recall, that was the first time that a Republican office-holder had ever been bestowed the title by our readers, more than 10,000 of whom voted online and via paper ballot. Utah Republicans are nearly always the recipient of our Worst Utahn accolade, as has that weird alien, Jason Chaffetz, for the past two years. It's says something about the hip and personable Cox that he's able to win over so many democrats and independents, who, at minimum, acknowledge he's not a giant jerk.
Cox was born in Mount Pleasant, down in Sanpete County. Mount Pleasant does not produce jerks—giant or otherwise. Even if it did, I wouldn't say so, because admitting such would throw shade at my own very distant relatives living throughout the Central Utah region. I've written numerous times about Matthew Caldwell, my great-great grandfather, a man fairly well-known in early Utah history who was a reluctant polygamist and veteran of the Mormon Battalion. He lived a time in what became Cox's backyard, so for all I know, the second-in-command and I are cousins somehow. I can't imagine that discovering so would cause Cox to celebrate.
He should though, because I think he's a pretty darned OK guy on Twitter. He appears to believe a bridge is better than a barrier. If the election were tomorrow, I'd be hard pressed not to vote for him. I'm certain there are Democrats out there—and others balancing their tightly calibrated politician fitness scales—who would slay me for not supporting their ideal candidate, whoever it might be.
In my formative years as a legal voter, Utah had a Democratic governor. First, the popular Calvin L. Rampton who passed the seat to equally popular Scott M. Matheson. Utah even had a Democratic U.S. senator in Frank E. Moss. It was a rosy period for the state. Then Matheson stepped aside in 1985, deciding not to run again. Thus, for a Christ lifetime of 33 years, the statehouse has been ruled from the top by a string of Republicans. Since Moss lost his senate seat to Orrin Hatch in 1976, no Democrat has won a Senate election. In the same period, state Republicans elected to the House of Representatives have served a total of 118 years in Washington, D.C., while Utah Democrats have served 12.
The only time I met Matheson, I thanked him for the nice pay raise he gave me. He goes, "Huh?" I told him that when he became governor, my unemployment check went up by $5 a week, providing me with an extra carton of cigarettes and two beers. His look back to me was, "That's so dumb. I'm outta here." Less than a decade later, he was.
I'm a firm believer in the Butterfly Effect, so I also remember thinking when Matheson retired, that it was somehow my fault. See, I thought if only I'd skipped school that day and not gone with my class to the Utah State Capitol, Matheson wouldn't have resigned. We crazy people believe things like that. Therefore, I curse myself twice because on that same day, I also met Orrin Hatch, a crappy attorney from Pittsburg running for U.S. Senate. Looking back, Hatch won by being Trump before Trump: Don't stand for anything, make your opponent look weak and shamelessly say anything any time, because voters don't pay attention to course-correcting truths.
Hatch had two claims to fame back then. First, he had been an attorney for George Norman, a businessman charged with absconding $50,000 from a Colorado bank. It's muddy, but basically the judge allowed Norman to make last-minute phone calls prior to going to jail, with Hatch at his side. Mysteriously, Norman just drove off by himself—leaving Hatch standing goofy eyed on the sidewalk. He was captured 23 years later, somehow having amassed an estimated $50 million fortune.
Second, Hatch claimed to have met so many people while running for Senate that he had to protect his right elbow and therefore, thrust his left hand forward when meeting people. I remember thinking that if my coal mining Cretan grandfather saw me shaking Hatch's hand, he'd probably roast me on a spit. I told Hatch we might be kin because I'm related to lots of Hatches thanks to my polygamist great-great grandfather. His astonished look said it all: "I hope not!" That's how we met though, me using my right hand to shake his left. Try that. It's awkward. He's been backhanding Utah ever since. Have any of you ever seen him about town? Nope. He's never been one of us. He's the butterfly who didn't belong but which changed everything else for the worse wherever he landed.
Since Hatch first took office, Utah changed politically. We became as insane as he is; as double faced; as mean and narrow minded. Democrats became hated. I hold Hatch in no high favor whatsoever, I cannot wait for him to leave office, and wish that for even small pieces of his conspicuously vacant Senate career, he would have risen to more than an escort for financial absconders, bookended by George Norman and Donald Trump.
There's a reason Orrin Hatch has been voted Worst Utahn by City Weekly readers in perpetuity. Turns out, he really is.
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