SALT LAKE CITY -- House Speaker Greg Hughes admits to having mixed emotions about leaving office.
"I’m not a very complicated or layered person so having two emotions at the same time is very strange for me," he joked.
His office at the Utah State Capitol has been cleaned out and Speaker-elect Brad Wilson is moving his furniture in. Speaker Hughes now finds himself with more free time after 16 years in office. He says it'll be an adjustment for him and his family.
"My oldest was three. She’s in her second year in college," he said.
In an interview with FOX 13 on Friday, Speaker Hughes reflected on his time in office and described it as "an adventure."
"There’s been highs, there’s been lows. I ran when I was 32. I’m 49 years old. That’s a learning curve in life, generally," he said. "I’ve learned so much. I know I’m not the same person when I leave than as I entered, in a good way."
Hughes, who has weathered an ethics inquiry early on in his political career (he was cleared) and risen the ranks of the Utah State Legislature to House Speaker with a reputation as passionate and, at times, pugnacious, said he will miss his colleagues and their ability to "move the needle" on big issues facing the state.
"I’ve been happiest when the odds have been the highest. When those that say you can’t accomplish the policy or the obstacle in front of you, that’s what I’ve enjoyed the most," he said.
Operation Rio Grande, the crackdown on crime surrounding the downtown homeless shelters, stands as his proudest accomplishment.
"For whatever reason, a switch went off," he said of his insistence that lawmakers deal with issues surrounding homelessness and crime.
Speaker Hughes said not since the Olympics had so many agencies come together -- and he believes it has been successful.
"I think we’ve made a difference. There’s still a lot of work to be done," he said.
Asked if he believed it will no longer be a priority when he leaves office, the Speaker said his successors were committed to ensure Operation Rio Grande was carried out. He also said he plans to be involved by working with the addiction recovery center Odyssey House and the Pioneer Park Coalition.
"I’ll keep my eye on it," he said.
In the interview with FOX 13, Speaker Hughes said his biggest loss was a bill he ran early in his career as a legislator in trying to expand natural gas for vehicles. He defended his most recent bill -- the "compromise" that replaced voter-approved Proposition 2, the medical marijuana ballot initiative.
"Politically, it is such a stronger agreement. And for me, that means the likelihood we’ll be able to see patients be able to access medical cannabis will be higher and better," he said.
As he gets ready to leave office, Speaker Hughes said he will return to private sector. But he told FOX 13 he is interested in running for governor in 2020.
"I’m looking at that, yes. I’m looking at that possibility," he said. "Policy is a passion of mine. You can’t help but have institutional memory or knowledge as you’ve been here for some time and these 16 years and 16 sessions have taught me much."
Governor Gary Herbert has said he is not seeking re-election in 2020. If he does run, Hughes faces a potentially crowded Republican field. The governor is throwing a fundraiser party for his Lt. Governor, Spencer Cox, who is considering a run. Other names being floated include former Congressman Jason Chaffetz; Congressman Rob Bishop; and Attorney General Sean Reyes.
Hughes spoke at length about the rapid growth in Utah and the western United States. He noted the booming economy but said infrastructure and transportation and water will be critical issues facing future leaders in Utah.
"It’s a great state but there’s again a lot of work to be done and so that’s why it intrigues me and at some point in some way I will not be quiet about it. It’s things we need to be paying attention to," he said.
When told those sounded like platform positions, he chuckled and replied: "They’re not, I’m just in this you’re getting the 'contemplative Greg' time now!"