ST. GEORGE — Gubernatorial candidate Greg Hughes made a stop on the campaign trail recently to sit down with St. George News and discuss his views on the COVID-19 pandemic, restarting the economy and why the people of Utah should choose a “battle-tested” candidate for governor.
Hughes is running for the Republican nomination for Utah governor, which will be decided in the primary election held June 30. Others running for the nomination are Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, Jr. and former Utah Republic Party chair Thomas Wright.
Hughes, R-Draper, served 16 years in the Utah House of Representatives, including two terms as speaker of the house (2015-2018). He is known for his work on Operation Rio Grande, as well as the controversial inland port.
Hughes has chosen Washington County Commissioner Victor Iverson as his running mate and has billed himself and Iverson as the “conservative ticket.”
See Hughes’ answers to St. George News’ questions below:
How might have you responded differently to the COVID-19 pandemic if you were governor currently? And how might you address it if it continues to be a concern into 2021?
“I think in the beginning, where we had this virus and we weren’t sure, we knew it was highly contagious, no one had any antibodies or any immunity to it. It made all the sense in the world to me that if you could have it up to two weeks, you could spread it without knowing that you had it, so we didn’t want the whole state getting it inside of two weeks,” Hughes said.
The initial response of having everyone stay home for those two weeks made a lot of sense to Hughes, he said, adding that it wasn’t easy, but he understood.
That said, as the stay at home directive continued well past the initial two weeks, affecting the economy and people’s livelihoods, Hughes said he began to disagree with the current leadership.
“When you shut down an economy by government order, we have to understand when we do this that people depend on household income; bills come due every 30 days,” he said.
Hughes said it is not enough to provide citizens with online links to government help, there has to be a plan in place to get people back to work and businesses opened as quickly as possible. The same goes for getting kids back to school, he said.
“Every child doesn’t have internet connection in their home,” Hughes said. “Some children’s education ended in March and didn’t resume.”
Perhaps the most distressing response to the COVID-19 pandemic for Hughes was what he sees as government infringement on citizens’ constitutional liberties.
Among the examples of such infringement, Hughes listed the closing of houses of worship and non-negotiable health stipulations put in place for how people can return to worship inside their churches, the declaration of some businesses as essential and others not, and restrictions on residents’ movements for a time.
“Even when we’re afraid, or even when there’s a virus, you want to make sure that our bill of rights still apply, our constitutionally protected liberties still apply. And I can’t say, looking back at how this has rolled out, that that’s been the case,” Hughes said, adding that even in a state of emergency, those liberties are not negotiable.
How do you propose to help Utah recover from the economic downturn created in response to the pandemic? How would you help small businesses and communities, such as those in Southern Utah that rely heavily on events and tourism?
“We have to be comfortable with the idea that we have to get this economy going back, getting started again,” Hughes said.
Hughes recognized that precautions need to be put in place because the virus is in our communities, he said, but it is not the end of the world. Hughes believes people need to make sure they are washing and sanitizing their hands frequently and avoiding touching their faces and that those practices will become more of a habit for people.
Hughes also believes that good data should drive the decision-making process, citing that most COVID-19 data points to it disproportionately affecting the more vulnerable older and immunocompromised population while younger and healthier people are less at risk.
“But we have to know that younger people … certainly students, but then even people that work 40 hours a week and are making their way, they’re not as vulnerable and we have to let that good information drive good decisions,” Hughes said. “The economic plan is, we’ve got to get back to work.”
Hughes said it is probably easier for an older and medically at-risk population to implement self-quarantine measures – particularly because they are not as likely to be working full time – to protect themselves from contracting the coronavirus than it is to quarantine an entire population that is otherwise healthy and able to work and go to school with proper precautions in place.
“We’ve got to get to work,” Hughes said. “Everybody’s livelihood is essential.”
As far as tourism goes, Hughes recognized it as an integral part of Utah’s economy and said he believes, particularly because people have been pent up for so long now, that it will start to come back.
“I think there is a robust tourism sector of our economy waiting to reignite again,” he said.
Do you support the Lake Powell Pipeline?
“When we grow, we need water,” Hughes said.
Hughes, who believes that the pipeline will be beneficial to the entire state, not just Southern Utah, said that with Utah’s high birth rate, growth is inevitable. Beyond just the birth rate, Hughes said people from other states recognize the pioneering industry of Utah and the opportunities available to them and want to make it their home.
With that growth comes a need for Utah to lead out on water infrastructure projects like the Lake Powell Pipeline, which will not only provide for growth but also make it sustainable for people in Southern Utah, especially in more rural areas, to be able to live and work in the communities where they were born or grew up in, if they choose to.
“That means we need water infrastructure, road infrastructure, rail infrastructure, power corridors throughout the rest of the state,” Hughes said.
What is the advantage of having you as the next governor of Utah?
“These are tough times that we’re in; I’m battle-tested,” Hughes said.
The former Utah House of Representatives Speaker of the House said that as a legislator, he has proven he can tackle tough issues and not just go after the low hanging fruit: the policies that don’t come with any resistance.
Policies such as infrastructure demands, roads, rail, water and the virus, Hughes said, are going to come with more resistance and disagreement from special interest groups and people whose policies are more liberal.
“These are things that I experienced when I was on the clock as a leader and as a speaker of the house,” Hughes said. “I think that’s the climate that our next governor’s going to face. … We have hard things we have to do.”
Hughes pointed to the history of Utah’s people overcoming tough times and said he is ready to tackle the issues without buckling.
“Tough times don’t last, tough people do,” Hughes said.
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