By Aaron Hastings
Capital West News
EPHRAIM—Rep. Jon Cox, R-Ephraim, comes from a long line of community servants and educators in Sanpete County.
His great-great-grandfather was the first from the family to call central Utah home, and his great-grandfather, Roscoe Cox, ran the Manti Messenger and Ephraim Enterprise for 35 years. Cox’s, grandfather, Vaun, worked with the Manti Messenger for another 14 years, and like his grandson, he too was a public servant. Vaun, a Democrat, served as a Utah State Senator from 1959-1961.
Finally, Rep. Cox’s father was a vice president of student services at Snow College, where Jon Cox now teaches social sciences when he’s not at the Legislature. It should not be surprising to learn that Cox grew up a native Ephraimite until he left to pursue an education at Utah State University. After earning his degree in communication, and while taking night classes to earn an M.A. in history from the University of Utah, Cox served in the office of United States Senator Bob Bennett.
“It was a great education,” said Cox. “If I had to compare my education with anyone else’s, I’d say I had a great experience. We’ve got great schools in Utah, and that’s why our economy is doing so well. We’ve got great graduates.”
While working in Salt Lake for Sen. Bennett, Cox met his wife, Ellie, whom he married in May of 2012. The couple returned to Ephraim so that Cox could follow in his father’s footsteps as an educator at Snow College.
Cox had begun teaching at Snow when a vacancy opened in the County Commissioner’s Office; his fourth cousin, Spencer Cox, had been appointed to serve as a legislator, and Jon Cox ran in the midterm election to fill the commissioner’s position.
Within a year, Spencer was appointed to be Lt. Governor, and Jon once again ran to fill Spencer’s vacancy. Although one might suspect that Jon and Spencer had known each other for years, they actually first became acquainted upon Jon’s involvement with Sanpete County politics.
“Spencer’s been a close friend,” said Cox. “I helped him with his campaign when he ran for the State House, and we’ve been close ever since. It’s helpful to have a sounding board that’s away from the clatter of the legislative session.”
For now, Cox doesn’t have any future political plans.“It happened very quickly,” said Cox. “When the opening came, I hadn’t thought about running. It was a quick turnaround that I had, and we went forward.”
Cox feels that focusing on the current issues and his position are what will most benefit the people of his district.“I’m enjoying my time in the House. I feel like I’m making a difference,” said Cox. He added, “you do a great disservice to your district if you’re thinking about some other greener pasture and not focusing on the task at hand.”
For Cox, living in Sanpete County has less to do with political positions, and more to do with home. “You move here because it’s a good place to raise your family,” he said. “There are opportunities to engage in public service; but they’re in positions that are more inconspicuous, but just as important.”
Cox’s family has expanded quickly since his marriage to Ellie. He takes his role as father seriously as he works to provide for two adopted daughters, Epuri (7) and Nawook (5), from Uganda, and Eva, their 16-month-old biological daughter.
Ellie had known the girls before they became orphans through her work with a Ugandan orphanage. She and Jon were devastated by the news of the girls’ loss.
“I just got hysterical as soon as I hung up the phone,” said Ellie. “Jon just hugged me and said, ‘It looks like we’re adopting a little girl.’”
After three trips to Uganda and almost two years of preparation, the Coxes arrived home with their new family.
Cox says a number of colleagues in the Legislature offered moral support to him and his wife during the adoption process. “They’ve been our greatest cheerleaders. I really appreciate it. Not just the Republican colleagues. The Democrats, too.”
Cox’s experiences have given him added background and depth for serving in the Legislature. Issues that he believes are vital to the 2015 session include family, education, and the possible relocation of the state prison. Utah actually has two state prisons, one in Draper, the other in Gunnison.
“Almost nowhere in the state is anyone excited about having a prison in their backyard,” said Cox. “I think what’s interesting about Sanpete County is that we have a prison. We welcome growth. People in Sanpete County appreciate it. It’s provided some economic development.”
Cox also supports consideration and discussion about the justice system in Utah, and how prevention in Utah can help prevent costly incarceration.
“What I would hope to see is a broader discussion about criminal justice and incarceration in the State of Utah,” said Cox. “It costs us a lot of money. Is there more that we could be doing in prevention, substance abuse, or mental health?”
Cox will address many Sanpete resident concerns in committee meetings. He is a member of the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee, the House Business and Labor Committee, the House Rules Committee, and the House Transportation Committee.
That said, Cox does worry about micromanagement coming from the Utah Legislature, especially as it relates to education. “I think one of the great failings of the legislature is our desire to micromanage a classroom,” said Cox. “We don’t have the backgrounds or the expertise, and even if we did, it wouldn’t make sense for a far off legislative body to try to dictate what takes place within classrooms.”
Cox favors scaling back on many of the education bills, saying that he sees dozens upon dozens of education bills every year. Also, he plans to support Governor Herbert’s financial plans to redirect more funding to local school districts, letting them choose where the money needs to go.