LOGAN – GOP gubernatorial maverick Greg Hughes minced no words at a rowdy town hall gathering at Merlin Olsen Central Park June 15 when discussing the recent civil unrest in Salt Lake City.
“When something like this happens, you have to lean into it right away,” Hughes told a crowd of about 40 Cache Valley residents who cheered and applauded his comments. “When I’m governor, we will meet lawlessness face-to-face immediately.”
Hughes was referring to an anti-police demonstration in downtown Salt Lake City that erupted into property destruction and violence on Saturday, May 30.
That protest was sparked by the death of George Floyd, an African-American who died in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25. Video footage of Floyd’s death led to nationwide outrage and violence in numerous cities.
“I’ve seen that video of George Floyd dying and I didn’t like what I saw,” the candidate explained. “I don’t care who you are or what your race, color or creed is, no one liked what they saw. We all recoiled from that horror because what happened to George Floyd was a violation of human dignity …
“I don’t blame the people who wanted to peacefully demonstrate in reaction to what they saw. I think that the moment when we all recoiled from the death of George Floyd could have been a unifying one when we all resolved never to treat each other that way again.”
Instead, Hughes said, that moment of opportunity was lost when those protests were hi-jacked by agitators determined to inflame the already tense situation.
“They didn’t care what happened to George Floyd,” he argued. “They just used that tragedy to incite violence and civil unrest.”
In the midst of the May 30 disturbance, a police car was burned, the state Capitol was vandalized, windows were broken at numerous locations and police in riot gear were pelted with rocks, bricks and water bottles.
While some observers praised the restraint shown by Salt Lake authorities, Hughes said the riot was another example of how recent events have “turned the world upside down in Utah.”
Hughes marveled at the irony that Third District Court Judge Dianna M. Gibson had issued an injunction blocking a county music concert on May 30 in Tooele County to uphold the statewide ban on public gatherings due to the coronavirus. That same night, rioters were allowed to run wild for four hours in downtown Salt Lake.
“We have a right to peacefully assemble,” he emphasized. “That’s in the U.S. Constitution. But a judge took that right away from those Tooele business people …
“But that very same Saturday … we had people rioting. There was no social distancing. Too bad there was no judge to tell those protesters to go riot in their own homes.”
The Salt Lake riot was eventually quelled with the help of police reinforcements from communities along the Wasatch Front and 200 members of the Utah National Guard.
Clean-up efforts were still underway on Sunday, May 31 when Salt Lake Mayor Erin Mendenhall issued a statement inviting the protesters to file complaints of excessive force against police officers and National Guard personnel.
“When you let lawlessness flow like a fountain and spread, more people are victimized and more people suffer,” Hughes said. “You can’t have a governor who tolerates that.”
The four-way race for the GOP gubernatorial nomination will be decided in primary balloting on June 30. Hughes’ rivals for the Republican nod are Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, former governor Jon M. Huntsman Jr. and former state GOP chair Thomas Wright.