State Rep. Greg Hughes, just off of his full acquittal by the Utah House Ethics Committee, says he is now out campaigning like mad, and while his legal fees will be "substantial," he doesn't yet know how he will pay for them.
Should Hughes, R-Draper who has proven himself a good fundraiser in years gone by start asking lobbyists and other special interest groups for money to pay his legal fees, he could be right back into allegations that he's just been proven innocent of inappropriately pressuring donors.
"I don't know what I'll do. I pay my bills. I'll pay this (legal) bill. But I'm not thinking about that now I'm out campaigning."
The bitter 2007 private-school voucher fight was all over the ethics complaint filed against Hughes by three Democratic House members. And it is still part of Hughes' House District 51 race.
Hughes' Democratic opponent, Lisa Johnson (she ran against him in 2006 as well), was the executive director of the political issue committee put together to fight for repeal of the voucher law, passed by the 2007 Legislature and put before citizens last November.
Utahns voted down the voucher law by nearly a 2-to-1 margin.
Hughes said he walked Draper neighborhoods all day Saturday after the ethics panel cleared him of all charges but also issued a letter of reprimand for some of his actions Friday night.
People he talked to not only knew of the original ethics charges but also that he had been cleared. "Everyone I met was very supportive," Hughes said.
"But I had 18 days of negative press every day," said Hughes. "I know that I won't be getting 18 days of good press" now that he had been cleared. "I have to change my whole campaign."
Hughes beat Johnson 57-40 in 2006. But this race could be much closer. "And some people told me (Saturday) that they had already voted absentee and while they didn't say it, I got the impression they may not have voted for me and now regret it."
Hughes said he was always planning on running a tough campaign, talking about how he and GOP legislators have cut taxes, instigated fairer taxes and spent record amounts of money on public education.
Hughes said: "The day all this broke" in the media, around Oct. 1, Johnson had a full-page advertisement in a local Draper newspaper talking about how she supports real ethics reform in the Legislature and how legislative ethics needs to be cleaned up.
Now, says Hughes, he will probably have to talk ethics, not legislative accomplishments, until Election Day.
"I've already sent out two letters" signed by local mayors giving their support to Hughes. He may be on some targeted cable TV ads and on radio, although he said he hasn't "cut" any electronic media yet. He will be doing some new mailers, which may also have to tell voters about his innocence, since the news broke Friday night/Saturday morning and some of his voters may not have heard it. And he'll be walking his district.
Hughes was first elected in 2002. But just how much positive name recognition he has is unknown. Active politically for some years before he was elected, Hughes is known as an insider who can read polls and understand strategy. He knows just how much damage he could have suffered."Basically, I have two weeks to turn this thing around. And I'll work very hard to do it," Hughes said Monday. "Can I reach all the 10,000 or so people who will vote? I'll do my best."