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Utah House speaker still talking with Trump administration

FILE — House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, speaks as local and state elected officials, faith leaders, members of the business community and other Utahns stand together at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016, as a show of support an
FILE — House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, speaks as local and state elected officials, faith leaders, members of the business community and other Utahns stand together at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016, as a show of support and unity among all residents.
Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, previously seen as a possible pick for President-elect Donald Trump's transportation secretary, said he's continuing to talk with the woman selected for the post.

The Draper Republican said his conversations with Elaine Chao, a former labor secretary under President George W. Bush and the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have focused on policy.

Hughes said he doesn't know if he's being considered for another spot in the U.S. Department of Transportation, such as director of the Federal Transit Administration. He's a former chairman of the Utah Transit Authority board.

"I don't want to rule anything out because I don't really know," Hughes said. "I just don't know what role I would fill, and I don't want to start defining what I would be willing or not willing to do. I'm just open to the conversations."

If he is offered a job in Washington, D.C., Hughes said "it would be very, very challenging for me to move away."

"I love what I do. I love being speaker. I love my colleagues. So I'm not looking for any position, but I am wanting to be very helpful," he said.

The new administration is interested in what Hughes described as the Utah model of planning for transportation needs that strives to steer away from the usual turf wars between agencies that oversee roads, mass transit and other modes.

"I would argue you'd be hard-pressed to find another state that approaches it that way," the speaker said, citing the Utah Department of Transportation's promotion of mass transit on freeway message boards as an example.

Hughes said he's being encouraged to join the Trump team by various transportation think tanks and advocacy groups. He said he'd be willing to go on the road on behalf of the administration to talk about transportation planning in Utah.

The speaker was one of Trump's first big-name supporters in the state, coming on board before Utah's presidential preference caucus vote in March after his first choice, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, dropped out of the race.

Trump himself acknowledged a "tremendous problem" with Utah voters uncomfortable with his style and some of his stands, particularly on immigration. But he won Utah in November with 45.5 percent of the vote.

"I think he's on track," Hughes said, predicting that Utahns' comfort level with Trump will continue to grow. "At the end of the day, he'll be judged ultimately by his effectiveness. Signs are pointing in the right direction."