By Blakely Gull—Capital West News
Prison relocation, Medicaid expansion and public education are a few debates Utah legislators are up against this 2015 session. Luckily, Utah’s newly elected Speaker of the House, Greg Hughes R-Draper, isn’t afraid of a good fight.
Known for his enthusiasm and determination on the Hill, Hughes, a Pittsburgh native who lives in Draper, is no stranger to mixing it up with opponents.
Growing up in a single mother household, Hughes found himself getting into trouble at school. At his mother’s request, he started going to the Richland Youth Foundation while she was away at work.
“My first day there I got into three fights,” Hughes said.
Rather than see more bloodied lips, the staff at Richland started channeling his energy toward the boxing ring above the gym.
“I wasn’t very good, but I liked it. I liked them getting on me. I liked the attention,” Hughes said.
Hughes has remained a huge fan of boxing, even sponsoring a professional Utah fighter, Chris “Kid kayo” Fernandez, for a number of years.
Hughes was drawn to the political world after he graduated high school when he got involved in the Pennsylvania state office presidential campaign for George Bush.
Hughes spent his afternoons during the campaign reading through a filing cabinet full of position papers.
“I was able to contrast what I thought the world ought to look like with these position papers. It really got me thinking in terms of policy and positions including everything from trade to taxes.”
After the Bush campaign and after serving an LDS mission, Hughes moved to Utah to attend college at then-UVSC. He got involved in a BYU’s College of Young Republicans meeting where Enid Greene spoke.
“I was ready to go ‘Braveheart’ right there listening to her. I thought she was spot on,” Hughes said. “I just made a decision right there, ‘I’m not going back to Pittsburgh.’ I wanted to help Enid.”
Hughes has been involved in Utah politics ever since, starting as a campaign worker and fighting his way to his latest accomplishment, Speaker of the House.
“I thought driving up to the Capitol that if I lose, it will be the irony of my life because I’ve never had more fun. I’ve never enjoyed a process more. I’ve never gotten to know my colleagues as well as I do now. I felt good,” Hughes said. “It was a pretty big deal, and it came with a lot of responsibility.”
Hughes urged lawmakers on the opening day of the Legislature to engage in the “big, hard fights” saying that all of the easy stuff has been done and that it’s up to them to take on the hard stuff.
“We have these challenges and how we engage and how we overcome those things… some of it’s gonna take us out of our comfort zone,” Hughes told reporters recently.
In his office, sitting next to a picture of his family with a pair of miniature gold boxing gloves draped across, Hughes said that boxing taught him a thing or two he intends to bring with him to his role as Speaker.
“It taught me that you keep doing what you need to do even when the will to do it is gone. Life isn’t always easy, and sometimes the things that you have to grit through are frankly unpleasant. I learned to endure and fight for what is right, and that’s a great life lesson,” Hughes said.
Hughes’ good friend and boxing gym owner, Eddie Newman, told reporters, “His passion is boxing… Maybe that’s why he fights so hard up in the House.”
“If you had to go to war and you need someone close to you, he’s a good fighter to have on your side,” Newman said.