- Associated Press - Monday, January 26, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah’s new speaker of the state House of Representatives sworn in Monday is a former amateur boxer who climbed from humble beginnings in Pittsburgh and weathered legislative bouts to win his leadership position.

Republican Greg Hughes from Draper was born to a go-go dancer mother with a father he never knew. The 45-year-old Hughes said he learned quickly never to step down from a fight in the rough-and-tumble areas where he grew up.

Hughes started boxing after his mother caught him smoking after school when he was 8 years old. While she was working at a sales job, she sent him to a youth center where staff members channeled his energy into sparring. That gave him his first taste of a sport he still loves.

His mother converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when he was a young boy, but Hughes didn’t get serious about the religion until he was in the 10th grade.

Hughes was in a serious car accident and his legs were crushed that year. Church leaders came to the hospital and gave him a blessing that he credits with helping his legs heal cleanly.

Afterward, Hughes started dating a Mormon girl whose family insisted that she marry a man who had completed a mission.

“If they’d said she’ll never marry anyone but a trapeze artist, I’d have joined the circus right there,” Hughes said.

The relationship didn’t work out, but Hughes did serve a two-year mission in Australia and Papua New Guinea.

When he returned, Hughes heard Utah native and National Young Republicans leader Enid Greene speak at an event.

“I was ready to go ‘Braveheart’ right there listening to her. I thought she was spot on,” Hughes told The Salt Lake Tribune (https://bit.ly/18lO5VD). “I just made a decision right there, I’m not going back to Pittsburgh.”

Instead, he moved to Utah and lived in Greene’s basement while helping with her with a congressional campaign.

Though that run was unsuccessful, he stayed in the state and met and married his wife, Krista. He won a race to replace then-Rep. John Swallow in 2002 and later co-founded the Conservative Caucus.

Hughes weathered an ethics complaint several years later filed over allegations that he promised $50,000 in campaign money to a lawmaker in exchange for changing her vote on school vouchers.

The House Ethics Committee ultimately voted not to take action against him, though members did write a critical letter calling for an apology.

Though he insists he didn’t do anything unethical, Hughes said the incident made him more careful.

“I thought brutal honesty was a virtue,” he said. “I’m still passionate, but I don’t want to leave myself vulnerable to attacks like that, so I learned a big lesson.”

His legislative career has included high-profile bills, including one to do away with private club requirements for bars and another to look at moving the state’s prison from Draper. The prison move became a contentious issue that’s still being studied.

Colleague Steve Urquhart, a Republican senator from St. George, says Hughes’s story shows what’s possible.

“Greg grew up really poor with very limited opportunities,” Urquhart said. “It proves people can claw their way up and really accomplish something.”


Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, https://www.sltrib.com

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