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Ex-House speaker enters crowded GOP field for Utah governor

January 8, 2020 GMT
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Surrounded by friends, family and supporters former Speaker of the House Greg Hughes announces his campaign run for Governor of Utah at Dee's Automotive in Murray, Utah., Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. (Francisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)
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Surrounded by friends, family and supporters former Speaker of the House Greg Hughes announces his campaign run for Governor of Utah at Dee's Automotive in Murray, Utah., Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. (Francisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

MURRAY, Utah (AP) — Former Utah House speaker Greg Hughes pitched himself as a conservative, dynamic candidate for governor Wednesday at a campaign announcement held at an auto-repair shop owned by an immigrant family.

Hughes said he’s the only GOP candidate so far aiming to secure a spot on the primary ballot by appealing directly to Republican Party delegates who are often more conservative than the rest of the GOP electorate.

“I know it’s hard, and I know it’s high-risk,” he said. “That’s a hill you have to climb, and I’m prepared to climb it.”

Hughes, a onetime prizefighter, is facing strong competition, including Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman Jr. and current Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox. Other candidates have said they plan appeal to delegates at convention but also gather signatures to guarantee a spot on the ballot in front of the wider GOP electorate, which tends to be more moderate.

Hughes also took a different position on a sweeping new tax-reform package that increases taxes on food and gasoline while cutting income tax. While several governor candidates have supported efforts to challenge it through a citizen referendum, Hughes said he didn’t back that approach. He acknowledged apprehension about the overhaul, but he said he supports the tax-cutting elements.

“I’m a supply-sider, so I do support having households having more of their earned income they can spend,” he said.

He said his top issues as governor would be managing the state’s rapid growth, including transportation and water infrastructure, and as well as ensuring a robust workforce. In his speech at Dee’s Automotive shop, he also highlighted contributions of immigrants like the Khuu family from Vietnam.

A state lawmaker since 2002, Hughes worked to block the expansion of former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law and for relocation of the state prison to allow development at its site in the Salt Lake suburbs. A vocal supporter of President Donald Trump, he also had key roles on issues like homelessness and medical marijuana.

He’s vying to replace Republican Gov. Gary Herbert, who is not running again.