SALT LAKE CITY – Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Hughes has come out swinging against a front-running rival in the race for the GOP nomination to replace outgoing Gov. Gary Herbert.
Hughes, the former speaker of the Utah House of Representatives, harshly criticized Utah’s response to the coronavirus pandemic at a recent candidate forum sponsored by the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Corporation of Utah.
In a clear jab at rival candidate Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who heads the state’s COVID-19 task force, Hughes said that Utah’s strategy has been the equivalent of “burning down a village to save the village.”
Hughes has characterized Cox’ leadership of the state task force as “irresponsible,” saying that the “government’s heavy hand” has forced too many Utahns from their jobs and businesses.
During the candidate forum, Cox replied that he is “very proud” of the way the Utah responded to the coronavirus crisis.
“Our history is a history of hard times,” the lieutenant governor explained. “…We acted fast to prevent the spread of the virus, not just to save lives but also to save our economy …
“There are far too many people,” Cox said, in a pointed reference to Hughes, “that have tried to tear us apart, to tell us that you either have to focus on the economy or you have to focus on people’s health, that you can’t do both. We reject that notion.”
While Cox insisted that Utah’s economic recovery plan is a model that other states are trying to emulate, Hughes said the process is too slow and tentative.
“The full weight of this (recovery plan) is being borne on the backs of the working people of Utah,” he argued. “It’s wholly unfair and it’s being done that way because you have health care officials driving decisions.”
A more equitable recovery plan could be developed, Hughes said, if the business community, local officials and state lawmakers had a greater voice in making decisions.
Polling of likely voters in mid-April showed Cox and former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. leading the pack of hopefuls in the race for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. But Hughes’ strong showing in the April 25 state nominating convention also makes him a serious contender, particularly with hard-line Republicans who are growing increasingly impatient with the state’s slow progress toward re-opening its economy.
Hughes is also making waves with recent political advertisements boosting of his strong support for President Donald Trump.
The other candidates running for the GOP nomination are carefully avoiding choosing sides in the current dispute over the state’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, preferring to talk about the future instead.
Huntsman said his priority as governor, once the threat of the coronavirus has passed, would be to sit down with public health experts to analyze the lessons learned from this pandemic and plan for the next one.
Former state GOP chair Thomas Wright agreed with that approach, saying that the most important lesson to be learned from the current pandemic is that Utah must be better prepared in the future.
“Let’s brainstorm what might happen and start creating some contingency plans,” Wright suggested. “Then let’s hope that they never happen.”