ST. GEORGE – The Lava Ridge Intermediate School choir led the way at an event celebrating America with the Governor of Utah and a former Green Beret commander.
At a “Salute to America” gathering of the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce at the Hilton Garden Inn in St. George, the school choir sang “We Remember” about the September 11 attacks that took place before she was born.
With lyrics dating back to the days when Americans were “one in song,” the song inspired speakers Col. Colby Jenkins as well as Gov. Spencer Cox, who threw out his prepared remarks in response.
On stage, Jenkins, who now lives in St. George and is CEO of social and emotional learning platform SchoolPulse, said the song was inspirational and went along with its theme that the nation has forgotten it’s more united because of enemies of the nation agree on who their enemy is.
“We have to remember to look ahead. We need to remember how we felt,” Jenkins, who led the U.S. Army’s special forces in Afghanistan and South America, told the assembled group of local business leaders, members of state and local government, and residents who bought tickets worth $100,000 $25 for lunch.
Holding up a piece of shrapnel that nearly hit him during the war in Afghanistan, Jenkins added, “Evil is real, folks. They don’t care if you’re Republican or Democrat or what your sexual orientation is. They only care that we are Americans.”
The event filled the Hilton Ballroom with political leaders including Cox, State Senator Evan Vickers and former Rep. Lowry Snow, who shared the space with several prominent local business leaders including Auto Center President Stephen Wade and Black Desert Resort developer , Patrick Manning, who spoke with them gathered about the news earlier in the week about the resort Securing funding through a government green initiative program.
It was also another stop on the governor’s Utah 360 tour of the state, which included: City Hall at Utah Tech University Thursday.
While political leaders touted corporate ties in southern Utah, the overarching theme was not just a celebration of American values. It also emphasized how to return to a less divided and more united America that, Jenkens noted, can agree to disagree but also find common ground.
“It was nice to see the values I was trying to share,” Jenkins told St. George News after speaking. “I’m not saying the world is bad, but that there are very evil forces out there that want nothing more than to destroy America. So it’s important that we remember what makes us strong, what makes us America.”
Jenkins also took the time to brag about his daughter Olivia, who earlier this year became the first ever woman from St. George to be admitted to the US Military Academy in West Point, New York.
After Jenkins spoke, Cox took the stage and mentioned that he changed his speech after following the chorus and Jenkins.
“This message is exactly what I want every American and every classroom to hear,” Cox told those gathered. He was also referring to something Swiss Ambassador Jacques Pitteloud told him and other leaders during a recent trade mission about America being the world’s hope but now being seen as a “divided house” that doesn’t lead and come together and need to find common ground to lead the world again.
Speaking to St. George News just before the start of the program, Cox mentioned something he said during the inauguration Southern Utah University President Mindy Benson on Sept. 23 in Cedar City. He had said he no longer saw people on the political spectrum as left or right, or as “builders or disruptors.”
“America was built by builders, both physically and, if you will, our character, spiritually. The founding fathers and mothers of this country sacrificed so much to build and keep this great nation,” said Cox. “We need that again. We need builders. It’s really easy to tear people down. It’s really easy to tear down institutions.”
The governor also said the reason he was attending the event was something he said will help the nation unite again: to make connections.
“The world needs a strong America now more than ever, and that strength doesn’t come from our politicians, it comes from the people who are here,” Cox said. “That’s why it’s really important to me to make those connections.”
Towards the end of the program, Cox answered attendees’ questions and challenged those who wanted to tell him “he’s doing a bad job.” Local resident Carolanne Simkins accepted the invitation and criticized the governor for doing so Veto of a bill banning transgender athletes This was later overruled by the legislature.
Cox referred to a four-page letter he wrote and put online He explained why he vetoed it and asked Simkins if she had read it. She said she didn’t, and when asked by Cox, few others in the audience raised their hands that they had read it.
“It’s so difficult here,” Cox said, noting that people get edited sound bites from cable news anchors. He then mentioned two prominent cable TV figures who have criticized him, including a smile at his “fan,” Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. At the same time, he noted that HBO host John Oliver “hates me too” after asking Utahns to “pray for rain‘ to fight the drought.
“Tucker Carlson never spoke to me and told his audience that I wanted boys to do sports for girls. Then he said he hates me because once I was chatting with a girl who talked about contemplating suicide and sharing pronouns with her. Tucker said I go to schools and share pronouns,” Cox said. “If that’s why you don’t want to vote for me, that’s fine. It helped that girl in that moment.”
After the event ended, Simkins approached Cox in a different mood.
“She went into the event not liking Governor Cox,” said Chamber President and CEO Shawn Christensen. “She said after listening to his response and the rest of his presentation that she will now vote for him.”
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