MIDVALE, Utah — Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes said Wednesday that he will not seek re-election this year but he isn’t closing the door on his career in politics.
Hughes, who has served in the Legislature since 2003 and as speaker since 2015, said he will not announce his intentions for another office until he’s done with his current role. But he made it clear he’s still interested in being in public office.
“I love public policy and I love being involved. I can’t imagine going into some closet and hiding myself,” said Hughes, 48. “But what I don’t want to do is start measuring for drapes while I’m on the clock.”
The speaker said he plans to keep his leadership role through the 2018 session that begins this month and said he and fellow lawmakers will use “every ounce of political capital” they have to work on key issues such as passing a sustainable budget and developing solid plans for tax policy, education and transportation.
“If they think I’m a lame duck, they will find a wounded wolf,” Hughes said. “I’m not going out with my tail between my legs.”
Hughes spoke to reporters during a break from a training day for Republican House members. He let his colleagues know of his decision Wednesday morning.
Hughes declined to directly answer a question about whether he would be interested in running for Utah governor or U.S. Senate.
Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics, said the Republican may have his eye on a higher office, perhaps the governor’s seat that is opening in 2020.
“What we know about Greg Hughes is he has a plan for whatever he does,” Perry said. “He is known for being willing to take risks.”
Hughes said he would back Mitt Romney if the former Massachusetts governor decides to run for the U.S. Senate seat that will be vacated when Sen. Orrin Hatch retires at the end of the year.
Romney is the most famous member of the faith to which Hughes belongs: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Here in Utah if you are a member of the LDS faith, I think we’ve all been very proud of the voice and the tone and the leadership that has been demonstrated by governor Romney,” Hughes said. “He’s loved here in the state of Utah.”
He joked that Romney needs to stop criticizing President Donald Trump, who Hughes has backed since the billionaire was a candidate for president despite lukewarm support from other Utah GOP leaders.
Hughes said he thinks Trump is doing a great job and showing he’s the opposite of the “plastic politicians” who don’t even choose their ties without input from focus groups. Hughes said the president invited him to spend a few moments on Air Force One during Trump’s recent visit, calling it a moment he’ll never forget.
“I think you’re getting a very authentic leader who is giving you his best take,” Hughes said.
A former boxer from Pittsburg, Hughes represents the Salt Lake City suburb of Draper, where he is a developer and property manager. He previously served as chairman of the Utah Transit Authority board.
He said two terms was long enough as speaker. He declined to back anyone for the post, saying he’ll let lawmakers decide that.
Hughes’ recent high-profile initiatives have statewide interest, including a broad push to tackle homelessness and other problems at Salt Lake City’s overflowing downtown shelter.
During his tenure as speaker, Hughes marshalled House Republicans resisting a push by Gov. Gary Herbert to expand Medicaid. He and other legislative leaders also criticized Herbert over the timing and process of a special election to replace Jason Chaffetz in the U.S. House.
Associated Press writer Lindsay Whitehurst in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to show Hughes referred to a wounded wolf, not a wounded duck.