Former House Speaker Greg Hughes’ run for the open governor seat was anticipated for some Utah residents who have followed his career through Utah politics over the past couple decades.
The path to the governor’s mansion is quite crowded, and Hughes said although it might be difficult, he hopes his past voting record can help differentiate him to the delegates.
“Things that are hard are usually worthwhile,” Hughes said before the start of his town hall meeting at the Logan Library on Thursday evening.
Prior to meeting, Hughes sat down with The Herald Journal to answer some questions about his campaign and his priorities.
Q: What do you want people to learn about you throughout your campaign? What makes you stand out from other candidates?
A: In a crowded field, you have to separate yourself. My background and how I grew up is a little different, not different than people in general in the state or country, but my mother was a single mother.
We had times when we were evicted from apartments or I would go to different schools every year and maybe a couple schools in one school year. If your power is turned off and things like that, it gives you empathy and understand other people’s circumstances. And I think that’s an important part of public service.
The other thing that I’d say to differentiate from other candidates is I’ve tackled as a house member some very difficult things that can get you criticism and attacks. But again, if it’s worth doing, it’s usually hard.
I’m a conservative, not just by what I would say on the campaign trail, but by my voting record. Our words and our actions have to match. And ultimately the harder path is to lay your fate at the feet of delegates in terms of getting on the ballot, and that is what I am doing.
So those are things that make me stand out: how I grew up doing difficult things and tackling difficult issues, not letting fear drive my decisions and then being able to maintain a conservative perspective.
Q: What are some of the challenges that you see ahead for Utah?
A: In 2020, we have a tale of two Utahs. We have four counties along the Wasatch Front that have seen the lion’s share of job growth, population growth, infrastructure investment. You could add maybe a few more counties that are seeing some growth but there are 22 counties. There are some counties that haven’t seen a day of growth.
What if no one can find a job where they’ve grown up in and they move to work on the Wasatch Front? There is scarcity in the housing, cost of living is going through the roof, there is congestion failure. There’s air pollution that comes with living in a valley that you’re filling up with people and vehicles. So the quality of life might not be as high.
So what happens if you can’t find a job in 22 counties, you’re having a hard time with the cost of living in the challenges and the areas where there seems to be opportunity, but you can’t afford to live there. I think that if we don’t change how we’re doing this right now — because I don’t think it’s sustainable — we will lose our young people that we’re trying to train up for the workforce. They’re going to have to leave. People are feeling the pinch of that growth.
My story doesn’t change whether I am in rural communities or the Wasatch Front, the story stays the same because the interests align. Infrastructure is the way you do that. You do it through roads, rail, water, fiber optic technology. We have to get the infrastructure to those communities.
Q: If elected, how do you plan to work with the legislature on tax reform?
A: I’m a candidate that’s not looking to restructure the way we tax. I want to restructure the economy and things we collect taxes on to grow that economic pie, and that’s what the inland port can do. Let’s just grow it. So I’m looking at growing the economic pie and restructuring our economic opportunities more than I’m looking to change that tax. I’d much rather spend that medical capital on infrastructure to the rest of the state to start to see the economy grow. That seems to be a better way forward.
The nice part, for me, is having worked with the legislature as closely as I have, I understand the process. So, if I were the governor, I would put the most minimum budget to keep the lights on. Not that that would be our end goal but knowing that the actual work is going to be done in the legislative session and then I just say, “Look, we’re going to work and come together on those priorities,” and the legislative leaders will know my priorities far before that deadline to present a budget. I just think my experience, having been on that side, the governor has this amazing bully pulpit where they can communicate with the public at large. The governor can share information and then get information back from the public in a way that the legislative branch is not really designed to do.
There are some good things that can happen with that kind of communication. That communication is important to understanding the state as a whole.
I don’t think you could afford to forget the rest of the state now because the Wasatch Front is just 130 miles. You cannot fit the whole state and all of its growth and investment in just four counties; you have to go outside and realize the interests of this state, small and large communities alike, align. You need a leader to connect the dots and show that we are all together in this. That is something I am bringing to this race.
Q: With homelessness growing in the valley and statewide, how do you hope to work on that problem if elected?
A: I realized as Speaker that we needed to do something about it. The country, I would say in large cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco and San Diego, they’re warehousing people in a very inhumane way. What we’ve done in Utah, where we changed our model, is to try and get to provide different options. We want to ask them more about themselves and get them specific services linked to their needs and stories. What I also found out is that among a homeless population, if you don’t care to know, there are a lot of wolves that prey on vulnerable people inside that population. Drug cartels or human trafficking can be confronted if you get to know who people are.
The more we are committed to knowing people’s individual story, it is kryptonite to a criminal. They don’t want you to know who they are and it will weed them out. They flee environments like that. It can allow us to help and protect those who actually want it.
It needs to be a statewide effort. Public safety should not be a household income issue. So we don’t apologize for law enforcement and public safety. If I were governor, I would work to make sure that we continue as a state to put forth effort to get to know everybody’s individual story.
I would focus on law enforcement so those that would prey upon people that are vulnerable are protected. And then we need to be vigilant in helping people get to the point when they can be self-reliant and find affordable housing. We should never accept a day that we would warehouse people.
We worked on legislation that if you’re a community that has a homeless resource and you’re trying to help and communities that don’t, some of their sales tax goes to those municipalities that have it so we’re all in it together as a state.
Q: What do you want Utah to be known for nationwide, worldwide?
A: We are a bit of a city on a hill right now. I think our state’s doing phenomenal. We have a growing population, a growing economy, there are a lot of good, big things that have happened. I think we can be a state that is successful by way of global trade. Our economic engine, the industry of the people who live here, the success will be an example to not only people in the U.S. but across the world.
As an example, the dual-immersion schools where students are learning curriculum in a different language for part of the day lead to an enhanced ability to work on the global platform.
We have more students by number than almost every other state. We are third behind Texas and California in students fluent in other languages. That means we are a state that understands the global supply chain and the global trade. Our young ones are going to work on a global playing field, and Utah will continue to prosper.
It was 1902 when the first reservoir was ever built in Utah. And then they built three in that decade. It would have been easy to say that it was overengineered or that it didn’t match the population. But there was an understanding of who we are and what we were going to become. Public servants today have to do the same type of work that public servants did back then that allowed us to grow over 3 million people. It didn’t happen by itself. There was a lot of work ahead of time that allowed us to grow. We have to believe in ourselves as a state to know that is coming.