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Utah’s big business leaders are divided when it comes to GOP gubernatorial candidates

Key Points

  • While most big business leaders support Cox, Zions Bank President and CEO, A. Scott Anderson has thrown his support behind Huntsman.
  • Under the Herbert/Cox Administration the Salt Lake Chamber has largely dictated policy and its big business members have benefited from programs that socialize their costs while privatizing their profits.
  • Business elites supporting Cox likely don’t appear to be pleased that Huntsman was governor when the state sales tax on food was eliminated and that Huntsman sided with the citizens in support of the referendum that resulted in the repeal of the tax reform bill that they helped create and fought so hard to retain.
  • Greg Hughes’ and Thomas Wright’s campaign websites do not list any major big business endorsements to date and, like Cox, neither actively sided with the citizens who supported the referendum on the tax reform bill.
  • The key question for voters is which of the four candidates will have the backbone to stand up for the interests of average Utahns and small businesses rather than accepting the conventional wisdom followed by most current Republican elected officials that “what is good for big business as put forward by the Salt Lake Chamber and the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute is always good for all Utahns.”

Utah’s big business leaders who largely control the agenda of the Herbert/Cox administration and who generally call the Salt Lake Chamber and Kem C. Gardner Institute home are divided when it comes to GOP gubernatorial candidates. However, at least for the time being, Spencer Cox has the decided edge with them.

Gail Miller and the entire Miller family, Lane Beattie, Wilford Clyde, Ron Jibson, Nolan Karras and a list of other minor and/or wannabe business elites joined Governor Gary Herbert in endorsing Spencer Cox.

According to these power players, Cox “has spent nearly a decade at Governor Herbert’s side, collaborating with private industry and the great citizens of Utah to build the most robust economy in America.”

Therefore, it makes sense for them to support Cox since under the Herbert/Cox Administration the Salt Lake Chamber has largely dictated policy and its big business members have benefited from programs that socialize their costs while privatizing their profits.

Herbert/Cox/Salt Lake Chamber programs include shifting the sales tax burden from big business to small business owners and average Utahns. In fact, the Salt Lake Chamber and many of the people endorsing Cox also helped create and then supported the ill fated tax reform bill that re-imposed the state sales tax on food, created a new state gasoline sales tax and imposed sales taxes on services offered by small businesses who lacked the clout to protect themselves. At the same time they retained their hundreds of millions of sales tax exemptions and taxpayer funded subsidies.

In addition, the Herbert/Cox administration has demonstrated its support of certain favored tech companies through very lucrative no-bid contracts associated with its COVID-19 response. And, as has been the practice during the entire Herbert/Cox administration’s time in office, it has failed to ensure that the privacy of Utah citizens is protected when creating apps to track citizens’ movements, collecting blood and nasal swabs from Utahns, etc.

A. Scott Anderson, the President and CEO of Zions Bank has broken with his fellow business elites by throwing his support behind Jon Huntsman. In addition, Kem C. Gardner appears to some observers to support Huntsman since he encouraged voters to switch their party affiliation to Republican which is a key part of the Huntsman strategy.

Business elites supporting Cox likely don’t appear to be pleased that Huntsman was governor when the state sales tax on food was eliminated and that Huntsman sided with the citizens in support of the referendum that resulted in the repeal of the tax reform bill that they helped create and fought so hard to retain.

Greg Hughes’ and Thomas Wright’s campaign websites do not list any major big business endorsements to date and, like Cox, neither actively sided with the citizens who supported the referendum on the tax reform bill.

Over the years Hughes has supported many initiatives that were also supported by the state’s business community including moving the state prison and the Inland Port initiative. He did, however, co-sponsor the bill that removed the state sales tax from food back in 2006 while Huntsman was governor.

Wright portrays himself as the political outsider despite having been a Republican County and State Party Chair and a National Committeeman on the National Republican Committee. He also acknowledges his friendship with Governor Herbert and his close ties to realtors and developers are well known.

In fact, Wright’s realtor background came through loud-and-clear during a recent gubernatorial debate (beginning at 42:48) when, in response to a question about affordable housing he accused Utahns of having a “not in my backyard” mentality when it comes to affordable housing and then he went after zoning ordinances that, according to him, lead to urban sprawl. His solution was to change zoning ordinances so developers could build [high-density] affordable housing in the parking lots of big box stores.

Despite the divisions among the business elites at the present time whichever Republican comes out of the June primary election will be quickly embraced by them since they will do anything necessary to maintain their influence and control.

The key question for voters, therefore, is which of the four candidates will have the backbone to stand up for the interests of average Utahns and small businesses rather than accepting the conventional wisdom followed by most current Republican elected officials that “what is good for big business as put forward by the Salt Lake Chamber and the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute is always good for all Utahns.”

Ronald Mortensen

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