Born in Utah, Joseph Cannon (ICPES 72) grew up on the shores of Southern California where he enjoyed his teenage years as a “surfer boy” who also spent time learning conservative values from his family in his father’s bookstore.
While Cannon grew up in an anti-communist household, it wasn’t until his time as a TFAS student that he grasped the inner workings of those values that he held dear.
“I grew up in a home that revered the Constitution, but this program was able to give me a lot of the intellectual infrastructure that you need to be a defender of the Constitution, and that has been a constant thread in my life in almost everything that I’ve done,” Cannon said.
As many TFAS alumni can attest, Cannon’s time spent learning and interning in Washington helped him realize his desire to return and succeed in the nation’s capital.
“Coming to TFAS was really transformative in my life in a lot of ways including the idea of ambition,” Cannon said. “A lot of the roots of that come back to my experience at TFAS. It set my life on a course that probably would have been different had I stayed a surfer boy from Southern California.”
As a TFAS student, Cannon recalls learning about The Federalist Papers and the importance of free markets from his professors in the Engalitcheff Institute on Comparative Political and Economic Systems. While in D.C., he became the first ever intern for Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger.
After TFAS, Cannon remained in Washington to continue his internship at the Supreme Court and volunteer in political campaigns. He then returned to Brigham Young University to complete his undergraduate degrees in political science and history, and he later obtained his law degree at the university’s J. Reuben Clark Law School. Cannon recalls getting his first “real paying job” at the Republican National Committee upon his return to Washington. His connections and experience at the RNC led him to serve on the campaign, transition and inaugural teams during the election season of 1976.
Cannon attests to the “serendipity of life,” when speaking on his unusual, nonlinear, but nonetheless successful, professional journey. He has worked in many diverse fields including government, law, journalism and business.
With his experience and connections in law and campaigns, Cannon was asked to become assistant administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from 1983 to 1985 under the Reagan Administration. One of his major accomplishments there was playing an instrumental role in getting lead out of gasoline in an economically sound way.
After serving at the EPA, Cannon went back to practicing law as a partner in the Washington branch of the successful law firm, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, LLP, where he represented some of the largest energy companies in the United States.
Following his time in Washington, Cannon went on to lead a pivotal role in the purchasing and success of Geneva Steel as the CEO and chairman until 2001.
Continuing down his nonlinear path, Cannon broke into the journalism industry and became the editor of the Deseret Morning News in 2006. During his tenure at Deseret, the publication’s circulation increased and it launched two additional print publications, the Mormon Times and the El Observador.
Deseret News has a rich history with Utah and with Cannon. Both Cannon’s grandfather and great-grandfather also served as editors of the paper. The newspaper was founded in 1850, and it is the oldest, continuously operating business in the history of Utah.
In addition to his work, Cannon has also been heavily involved in both politics and philanthropy throughout his life.
Cannon says “everything is political,” and that is clear through his lifelong political involvement. In 1992, he ran for the U.S. Senate, and only lost by a narrow margin. He also served as the chairman of the Utah Republican Party from 2001 to 2006.
“The heart of my life, my entire belief system, in addition to a huge religious component, are my political beliefs,” Cannon said. “If you don’t have, in every generation, people who are faithful to the Constitution, you’re going to have problems. We need to foster and promote a devotion to the Constitution, which is under increasing attack right now.”
Cannon has served as an advisor on multiple boards including spending time as a member of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) Board of Trustees while working at Geneva Steel. Appointed by President George H. W. Bush, he was the only gentile and “first gentile founder” to serve on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial fundraising council.
Throughout his career, Cannon has continued to fight for freedom. He ties his affinity for fighting for “captive nations” back to his time at TFAS when he first heard the thoughts of Ambassador Lev Dobriansky, then TFAS academic director and a vocal foe of communism.
Today, Cannon’s work focuses on freedom in the energy market. He is president and CEO of the Fuel Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to reducing the cost of driving vehicles by opening the market to cheaper fuel options. Through his foundation, Cannon is dedicated to building fuel freedom for America.
In his spare time, Cannon enjoys reading, and has recently been studying a great deal on the founding period and the founders of our country.
“I read a lot,” Cannon said. “Aside from the influence of the speakers, there have been a number of conservative books that have been very instrumental in my world view from TFAS. Reading is important, and I would encourage current students to continue studying the authors presented to them through TFAS.”
Cannon and his wife of 42 years, Jan, have seven adult children, and come July they will be the proud grandparents of a total of 19 grandchildren. Cannon says he has committed his family to the freedom movement, with many of his children serving in the military, working for prestigious law firms or for elected officials, including his daughter, who works in U.S. Senator Mike Lee’s district office in Utah.