Jul 14, 2023 - News

New NGA chair Utah Gov. Spencer Cox wants Americans to "disagree better"

Photo illustration of Utah Governor Spencer Cox with lines radiating from him.

Photo Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios. Photo: Office of Gov. Spencer Cox

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R) is calling on Americans to reduce partisan polarization and "disagree better" as part of his new National Governors Association chair initiative.

State of play: The one-year initiative, launching this month, will use open debates, service projects, public service announcements and other strategies to promote civil discourse over hotly contested issues facing Americans.

  • The focus will be on finding immigration-related policy solutions — an issue Cox describes as having bipartisan support among voters.
  • Cross-country governors have the option to engage in a series of public-facing efforts to promote the cause.
  • "Researchers will tell you that if you can get higher level politicians to model this behavior — that sends signals to the culture as well," Cox told reporters at a June press briefing.

Context: The first-term governor revealed his plan on Friday after being elected chair of the National Governors Association, succeeding New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D), who prioritized youth mental health as chair.

Yes, but: Cox acknowledged not all U.S. governors will participate.

  • "Not every governor is going to think this is a good idea for their careers," he said.

By the numbers: A Pew Research Center poll that surveyed 6,174 Americans last year suggested partisan polarization is increasing among both Republicans and Democrats.

  • The survey found 72% of Republicans viewed Democrats as "immoral," compared to 63% of Democrats who held the same beliefs about Republicans.
  • 83% of Democrats said they believed Republicans are "close-minded."
  • 72% of Republicans called Democrats "dishonest."

What he's saying: "We're headed into a darker place if we don't try to do something," Cox told reporters in a June interview.

Flashback: During the 2020 gubernatorial race, Cox partnered with his Democratic opponent Chris Peterson to film what became a widely watched political ad that called for civility and decency days before Election Day.

  • "We can disagree without hating each other," Cox said in the 30-second TV spot. "Let's show the country that there's a better way."
  • A Stanford University analysis found the ad strengthened pro-democratic attitudes among viewers and reduced support for partisan violence and undemocratic practices, per the Deseret News.

But, but, but: Cox got into hot water in May when he called members of Congress "imbeciles" who should "all get fired" after accusing them of failing to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

  • He apologized for the remarks a day later.
  • "[First lady Abby Cox] has to remind me every day, not to be that person. … Sometimes I'm gonna screw up," he said.

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