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Editor’s note • This profile is part of The Salt Lake Tribune’s coverage of this year’s special congressional election. Profiles for Celest Maloy, Becky Edwards and Democrat Kathleen Riebe can be found at these links.
If you looked up “establishment Republican” in the dictionary, chances are you would find a photo of Bruce Hough. He’s been a significant player in Utah and national GOP politics since the mid-1990s, serving as state party chair and holding a seat on the Republican National Committee.
Hough’s resume reads right out of central casting for a Bush-era Republican hoping to ride his business success into elected office. He’s been rumored to be a potential candidate for several years but only decided to make his first foray on the ballot following Rep. Chris Stewart’s surprising decision to resign.
“It’s never been the right time. Ecclesiastical obligations, or family, or business always got in the way,” Hough recounted. “I looked at my wife, and she looked at me, and she said, ‘You could actually do this.’”
Hough’s business success, and resulting personal wealth, is perhaps the only reason he’s still in the race to replace Stewart. While he did run in June’s special Republican convention where delegates nominated Celeste Maloy, Hough qualified for the primary after spending nearly $170,000 of his own money on signature gathering.
It would stand to reason that Hough’s old-school sensibilities might run into some resistance in the face of the populist turn the Republican Party has taken in recent years. But, while campaigning, that long experience has imbued him with the political savvy to adapt to the shifting electoral landscape.
Hough’s campaign recently hosted several screenings of the Tim Ballard bio-pic “Sound of Freedom,” which has become a sensation on the political right. The approximately 40 people who showed up for the showing in West Valley City were vastly outnumbered by the horde of pink-wearing moviegoers there to see “Barbie,” but Hough spent time chatting with each before they headed into the theater.
Hough describes himself as a “right-of-center” and “movement conservative,” with his primary policy focused on more fiscal accountability for the federal government. Still, his plan to reign in deficit spending and rising debt is less extreme than some conservatives who want more drastic cuts.
“We need to slow the ship of state down from its growth rate of 4 percent to even 1 percent. I’m not saying stop or go backward. I’m just saying we need to get to the point where the economy is growing faster than the government is growing. If we can do that, we’re winning and reducing the debt,” Hough says.
Hough’s other policy proposals are about as mainstream conservative as one can get. He believes public lands are better managed on the local and state level than by the federal government, and he plans to push back on federal regulations he feels are beyond the scope of what Congress intended.
Strengthening national defense and pushing for immigration reform are other key parts of his platform.
Collaboration, not name-calling
While Washington politics tend to be polarized and tribal, Hough says that’s not his style. He says cooperation, not rhetorical bomb-throwing, is the best way to get things done.
“I don’t believe in name-calling. I try to listen to others and communicate with them in a respectful, productive way. If we can create those relationships, we’re going to come to better solutions and better agreements,” Hough said.
That pledge to be collaborative isn’t just pablum for the campaign trail, easily abandoned once he gets to Washington, according to those who have worked with Hough in the political arena. Former Utah Republican Party Chairman Carson Jorgensen says Hough’s cooperative style could be very effective in Washington.
“He’s an old-guard conservative. He doesn’t get out in front on issues, but he works hard behind the scenes to do the right thing,” Jorgensen says.
Thomas Wright, another former Utah GOP leader, agrees with that assessment.
“Bruce is a conservative who brings extensive business experience and common sense to every conversation. In controversial or difficult moments, he takes a steady approach that includes listening and collaborating, while simultaneously staying true to his principles,” Wright said.
If voters send Hough to Washington later this year, he says there are several committee assignments he’d welcome.
“It would be awesome if [House Speaker] Kevin McCarthy would say, ‘Hey, Bruce. We know you’ve got a lot of experience and would be a great replacement for Chris Stewart on appropriations,’” Hough says.
He’d also be interested in a seat on the House Armed Services Committee because of the importance of Hill Air Force Base to Utah’s economy. Rep. Blake Moore moved off that panel earlier this year to take a seat on the prestigious Ways and Means committee. Wherever Hough ends up, he says, expect him to be more of a workhorse than a showhorse.
“I’m not going to be racing for the camera and promising we will take out the Department of Education or get a balanced budget amendment. If we think there are one or two things we can do right now, I’ll take that increment.”