Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of profiles the Deseret News is publishing on the candidates running for the 2nd Congressional District.

For Bruce Hough, politics has always been a family affair. 

In 1996, following two terms as Utah Republican Party chair, Hough traveled to the Republican National Convention in San Diego. Though he had attended every convention since 1980 and had already been a delegate twice, this time he was joined by his daughter, Sharee, who at 19 was the convention’s youngest delegate.

Sharee’s love of politics had been sparked by time spent campaigning and discussing shared values with her dad, Hough told a reporter at the convention.

“We’d talk for hours while we were driving to some corner of the state,” he said.

Now, decades later, and as one of three Republican candidates vying to fill Rep. Chris Stewart’s 2nd Congressional District seat, Hough spends most of his time talking about how Congress has put his children’s — and grandchildren’s — futures at risk. 

“Why did I even do this? It really came down to this whole issue: I’ve got 10 kids, I’ve got 22 grandkids and growing, and there’s a $32 trillion debt. And I really feel that America’s promise is in jeopardy for those grandkids especially,” Hough said in an interview with the Deseret News. 

Hough, who lives outside the 2nd Congressional District, is trying to convince GOP primary voters that he has their best interests at heart during a shortened election cycle with two opponents who benefit from what he sees as a head start: GOP convention winner Celeste Maloy, who received Stewart’s endorsement early on, and former state lawmaker Becky Edwards, who had a statewide network of volunteers already in place from her 2022 bid for U.S. Senate.  

But Hough believes that his decades of experience as a serial entrepreneur and high-ranking Utah GOP insider have left him uniquely qualified to enter the nation’s governing body as a leader and make the necessary changes to keep the land of opportunity just that for generations to come. 

“I have the time, the disposition, the talent to make a difference, and I want to make a difference for my kids,” Hough said.

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Bruce Hough is photographed at the Deseret News office in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 3, 2023. Hough is a Republican primary candidate for the 2nd Congressional District seat being vacated by Rep. Chris Stewart. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Early entrepreneur

When Hough was born, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, the scenic lake town his family called home, had a population of less than 15,000 people. Hough’s father, a radio announcer without a high school diploma, had decided to settle down there, instead of his hometown of Hollywood, California, for two reasons: first, he loved to fish, and, second, he thought rural northern Idaho was a better place for him and his wife to raise their five children. 

Hough couldn’t agree more. 

Hough remembers working on his grandfather’s farm, bucking hay, peeling potatoes and avoiding spinning tractor blades.

As a teenager, when he wasn’t working at Camp Easton, a Scout camp on the shores of Lake Coeur d’Alene, Hough was following in his father’s footsteps, manning the local radio station and filing the occasional breaking news story. This was his first introduction to the technology of broadcasting that would later jump-start his career. 

After serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Central America, Hough attended Ricks College, now Brigham Young University-Idaho, where he was on the ballroom dance team with his future wife, Mariann. The two were soon married and expecting their first of five children, Sharee.

With an associate degree in journalism, and facing the pressures of being a new father, Hough helped start the first radio station in the area and quickly became the advertising manager. His sales skills allowed the family to buy what was then the first condo in Rexburg, Idaho, Hough said. But the opportunities for advancement at such a small station were limited. Hough wanted room to rise and innovate. 

He found what he was looking for in Salt Lake City. 

Broadcasting innovator 

For two years, Hough oversaw domestic distribution for Bonneville Productions as the marketing director. Always one to stay busy, Hough invented jobs for himself to do. He became a weekend radio news anchor at KSL, started a Clio Award-winning advertising shop and brainstormed how he could revolutionize one of his favorite jobs — distributing the church’s general conference. 

In those days, Hough said, getting the church’s semiannual conference to members on the East Coast was no easy task. It involved racing videotapes of the Saturday sessions to Los Angeles and then flying the recordings to different locations on the other side of the country, where they could be played for members on Sunday morning. 

When Hough learned of a cable television company using satellite communication to deliver movies to remote locations, he saw an opportunity. Hough negotiated a deal with Western Union to use one of their satellites to send the upcoming conference directly to a videotape duplication house in Chicago, where they could then be distributed to East Coast locations much faster than from L.A.

Following the conference, Hough approached company leadership with this proof of concept. The idea was quickly adopted and before long Hough’s efforts made KSL one of the first local TV stations to receive live news from Washington, D.C., and general conference began to be beamed directly to meeting houses across the country. 

This success saw the birth of Bonneville Satellite Corporation, which Hough ran as its president from 1980 to 1988, and then under the name Keystone Communications, from 1988 to 1991. The company operated from transmission facilities around the country and helped develop private networks for Apple Computer and American Red Cross. Hough was later awarded the Pioneer in the Broadcast Satellite Industry Award by the Society of Satellite Professionals for his efforts.

“That was a fun part of my career because it was really having the curiosity and the ideas to try something that had never been done before,” Hough said. 

Hough went on to become co-founder and president of Nutraceutical Corporation, a manufacturer and marketer of nutritional supplements that acquired over 50 brands and grew to be worth $300 million during his tenure, which ended in 2017 when the company was sold and taken private. 

Sandwiched between the satellite communications and nutritional supplement stages of his career, Hough decided to take a break from company-building to try something else that he had never done before. 

Robert Craig shakes hands with Utah 2nd Congressional District candidate Bruce Hough at a gathering at Bountiful Park on Wednesday, July 19, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Saving a struggling GOP

Though Hough had always been interested in politics, and had gotten involved in campaign phone banking during college, his first electoral endeavor was as city council member in South Jordan in the late 1980s. 

Hough had been recruited by the city manager for his economic know-how and would have run for reelection were it not for the state of the Utah Republican Party. 

“I was concerned about their fiscal responsibility,” Hough said. 

The party had recently accumulated significant amounts of debt and had suffered key losses at the ballot box in 1990. Hough, and future Congressman Chris Cannon, thought he was the man who could turn things around. 

Despite showing up late to the convention, Hough was elected to the position after a nominating speech given by then-member of the Utah House of Representatives and future U.S. congressman Rob Bishop. 

Dave Hansen, who was working under Gov. Norman Bangerter, and who later served as GOP chair from 2009-2010, already knew Hough from his time as a city council member when Hough asked him to return to his previously held position of executive director of the party. 

The two worked closely together to raise money, recruit candidates, train local leadership and implement voter identification programs. The result was a 1992 election that included $1 million in fundraising, the formation of the Elephant Club and Utah Hispanic Republican Assembly and a visit from President George H.W. Bush to Utah. 

“He was just darn good leader at that time when the party needed a good leader,” Hansen said. 

Hough served a second term as state party chair from 1993 to 1995 and then felt he needed to focus his energy on his business. But after 212 decades, Hough reentered the world of politics with his election to the Republican National Committee, an unpaid role that he held from 2008-2016 and then again from 2020-2023, when he resigned to launch his congressional campaign. 

Julianne and Derek Hough pictured in this publicity photos from their 2016 dance tour. | Move Live On Tour

Family and service

Hough sometimes jokes that despite a long list of professional accolades, he’s most often recognized as the father of dancing and acting stars Derek and Julianne Hough. The two have been mainstays of the TV show “Dancing With the Stars” for over a decade, as trainers, judges and now, in the case of Julianne, as co-host. 

Derek, the older of the two, is a nationally recognized choreographer who just received his 13th Emmy nomination, the most of any choreographer, Hough said. Derek Hough has won the award three times. 

Julianne Hough has also received a number of Emmy nominations, winning once with her brother in 2015. She has also starred in numerous films, including “Footloose,” “Safe Haven” and “Rock of Ages.” 

“I never thought that those dance lessons would pay off,” Hough chuckled, saying the thing he is most proud of is that Derek and Julianne’s co-workers and backstage staffers have repeatedly said that they are some of the “kindest people … in the entertainment business.”

Following a divorce when Derek and Julianne were just beginning their professional dance training, Hough was remarried to Debra Francom Hough, who also had five children. 

Hough says that all 10 children have special accomplishments, whether as a special ed teacher, business owner, attorney, audiologist, or, most importantly, Hough said, mother or father. 

Hough was selected as Utah’s Father of the Year in 2014 and says that despite his accomplishments in the private sector, his greatest accomplishments are found at home.

“What better compliment could you have than to be identified as somebody’s father?” Hough said. 

Hough has sought to extend his influence beyond his family and employees by serving as president of the Great Salt Lake Council of the Boy Scouts of America, and as a board member of Mentors International, which teaches self-reliance practices to individuals suffering from poverty in Latin America, Africa and Asia. 

Bruce Hough answers interview questions at the Deseret News office in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 3, 2023. Hough is a Republican primary candidate for the 2nd Congressional District seat being vacated by Rep. Chris Stewart. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Hough’s political playbook 

Hough says his campaign is focused on traditional conservative values: “faith,” “family” and “freedom.” In his convention speech, Hough listed the principles he would adhere to “no matter what,” including preserving the family as the “basic structure, and building block of society,” defending the Constitution and freeing the country from debt.

He has said if elected that he would introduce legislation to increase penalties for child sex trafficking. Hough has hosted multiple screenings of “Sound of Freedom,” a movie about the extent of child sex trafficking, as part of his campaign. 

When asked about what can be done to address the nation’s debt, Hough said that if elected he would advocate for passing an actual budget, instead of continuing resolutions, which would allow the country to progress “inch by inch” to a place where it is no longer adding to its debt. 

On the topic of whether the U.S. should continue sending financial assistance to Ukraine, Hough said the U.S. has a “moral obligation” to help Ukraine after pressuring them to get rid of their nuclear arms in 1994 and that enabling Ukraine to defend itself is in the country’s national security interest. He added that he believes China is watching to see whether the U.S. remains a strong ally of Ukraine to decide whether or not to invade its neighbor Taiwan. 

Hough has set conditions for his support of Ukraine, however. He said that other NATO countries should meet their defense spending requirements and the U.S. should never put “boots on the ground” in Ukraine. 

Utah 2nd Congressional District candidate Bruce Hough hosts a gathering at Bountiful Park on Wednesday, July 19, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Will Hough’s message connect with 2nd District voters? 

Hough has framed his effort as an “underdog” campaign. 

Largely self-funded, Hough has been able to put together a high-quality website and advertising campaign, and prior to the GOP nominating convention, Hough’s signs dominated the grass lawns outside of Delta High School, where the delegate vote took place. 

Despite receiving less than 2% of the vote at the convention, Hough says he is confident the majority of voters, who he says are still undecided, will find his message and his background worthy of a vote once they get to know him. 

“Nobody has private sector experience but me in this race. Nobody has the breadth and depth of experience that can really have a positive impact,” Hough said. 

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To those concerned about his connection to the district — Hough has lived in Park City for the last 30 years — Hough said that districts are somewhat of an arbitrary boundary and that Summit County is a rural area that has many of the same issues as the rest of rural Utah, namely, water, land and economic growth. He committed to locating his main congressional office in St. George if elected. 

Hough said he will attend all 10 debates scheduled by his opponent, Celeste Maloy, and hosted by county party leadership and KSL. 

“I want to be where the people are,” Hough said. 

He said he hopes the message that rings loudest at the debates is that he will bring the same devotion to elected office as he has to being a father, because his children, after all, are the reason he’s running in the first place.

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