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Utah Democratic Rep. Brian King announces a challenge to Gov. Cox

Democratic Rep. Brian King at the KUER studios in Salt Lake City, Dec. 4, 2023.
Saige Miller
Democratic Rep. Brian King at the KUER studios in Salt Lake City, Dec. 4, 2023.

Democratic state Rep. Brian King is running for Utah governor, making him the second candidate and first Democrat to openly challenge Republican Gov. Spencer Cox.

King, the former House Minority Leader, has served in the Legislature for 15 years. He said Cox has caused him “real frustration” with how he engages with residents over issues like reproductive rights and education. As governor, King said he would “uphold and defend the Constitution,” and push back against government overreach that he believes is present in the status quo.

“He fails to use his office in a way that takes issues to the people of the state of Utah,” King said. “We deserve better than what we're seeing from Spencer Cox.”

It’ll be an uphill battle, though. Utah hasn’t had a Democratic governor since 1985. King, however, believes voters are tired of party labels, which despite running as a Democrat, he thinks gives him the upper hand.

“They [party labels] make people feel contentious. They make people feel defensive. They shut down rational discussion,” he said. “People do feel that their party has left them.”

Rather than sticking with the party platform, he said he would talk about top issues in a “common sense and rational” way that would motivate a change in “how people think about politics.”

While King’s current legislative district covers Summit and Salt Lake counties, a reliably blue voting block, he would need to appeal to the larger Republican base statewide. King thinks he would do a better job representing the rural parts of the state to bolster economic opportunities outside of tourism and fossil fuels. To King, Utah’s rural communities rely heavily on the mineral extraction industry, like coal, that is “disappearing.”

“We need to make sure that they have some ability to transition to a more sustainable, more stable type of economic growth in the future,” he said.

King believes Republicans leading the state have contributed “rhetoric and cheerleading” to celebrate perceived successes on top issues, instead of seeking “self-awareness” on how to solve problems like the rising cost of living and the shrinking Great Salt Lake. He would also like to work on closing the gender pay gap in Utah. The state currently has one of the worst pay inequities in the nation.

Besides King, the other announced challenger is Rep. Phil Lyman, his House Republican colleague. King said he will not seek reelection in District 23 after his term ends on Dec. 24, 2024.

“It's time to give someone else a chance to step up and serve,” he said.

Saige is a politics reporter and co-host of KUER's State Street politics podcast
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