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Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes not seeking re-election in 2018

MIDVALE — Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes won't seek re-election to his House seat this year, and vows he won't be a lame duck and won't talk about his political future.

The Draper Republican told colleagues Wednesday how much he appreciates serving and how much he respects House members, but at the end of the year it is time to move on and let others advance in leadership.

And for who anyone who thinks the decision renders him a lame duck, he said they would find a "wounded wolf."

"I'm not limping out of public service. I'm not leaving with tail between my legs," he told reporters at a hastily called press conference at CHG Healthcare where House Republicans held in an all-day caucus to plan for the legislative session that starts Jan. 22.

In step with his hard-charging style, Hughes promises "hair-on-fire" work in the Legislature this year, spending "every ounce of political capital" he has to benefit the state and its residents.

The two-term speaker said he grappled with the decision to step aside for some time because he loves public service, working with lawmakers and moving the needle.

"It has been the honor of my life to serve as speaker," Hughes said, noting that only once in state history has a Utah House speaker served three terms.

Hughes, 48, has held the leadership post since January 2015. He was first elected to the House in November 2002. He said he never expected to be in the Legislature for 16 years, but didn't rule out running for other political offices in the future.

"I can't imagine going into some closet and hiding myself, but what I don't want to do is start measuring for drapes while I'm on the clock," he said.

Though he's said to have an eye on in what will be an open governor's seat in 2020, Hughes declined talk about his interest in any specific state or federal offices.

During the past year, Hughes has been a driving force behind Operation Rio Grande, a joint state and local government project to reduce crime in downtown Salt Lake City areas frequented by homeless people, and to provide better services to curb homelessness.

Hughes listed that bipartisan effort among the highlights of his tenure, along with his work for veterans and a quality preschool bill.

"I walk away from this experience, when I do, it will be with the absolute belief that the people's business is being done, that we are responsive, that we work as hard as we can," he said.

As for low points, Hughes said he has battle scars head to toe and he wouldn't know where to begin on which cut the most or the deepest.

"Even my wife will ask me, 'What were you thinking?'" he said.

House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said Hughes gave him a heads up about his plans in a text Wednesday morning.

"It made me sad," King said.

Though the minority leader doesn't always agree with the speaker, King said Hughes has led the Legislature and the state in the right direction in many cases, particularly with the bipartisan Operation Rio Grande.

Republicans, he said, aren't usually keen on funding for drug treatment and counseling, affordable housing and job training.

Hughes isn't one to sit around and talk about getting things done, he's intent on doing them, King said. But it comes with some political exposure, he said.

"He’s very direct. He tells you exactly what he's thinking. He doesn’t lack for opinions," King said.

An unabashed early supporter of President Donald Trump in Utah, Hughes said he hasn't received any offer to work in the administration but does enjoy a line of communication with the president.

During Trump's visit to Utah last month, the president nicknamed him "The Original," Hughes said, adding that flattered him. The speaker rode with Trump back to the airport and met with him in his office on Air Force One.

"I like our president. I think he's doing a great job," Hughes said, adding Trump is an "authentic leader who is giving you his best take."

Hughes also said he would support Trump nemesis Mitt Romney running for U.S. Senate, even despite Romney's occasional criticism of the president.

"He has to stop that. That has to stop," Hughes said somewhat in jest.

But, he said, he does get frustrated when Republicans criticize the president.

"I think that we're all open to criticism somewhere along the line and think that it's counterproductive," Hughes said.

Hughes said elected officials have to find places where they agree and run with that, and he believes it's possible in areas such immigration, health care and transportation.