Looking At Huntsman's Record As Governor

Jon Huntsman's tenure as Utah governor provides a window on his approach to policy and his governing style. Michele Norris talks with University of Utah political scientist Matthew Burbank.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Jon Huntsman's tenure as the governor of Utah is a prime reference point as to how he might operate as a president. So, to get a better sense of what sort of governor Huntsman was, we're joined now by Matthew Burbank. He's a professor of political science at the University of Utah. Welcome to the program.

Professor MATTHEW BURBANK (University of Utah): Thank you.

NORRIS: And if you had to use shorthand to describe the Huntsman credo as governor, what would you say?

Prof. BURBANK: I think, probably, his signature, in a way, was kind of a diplomatic approach. He preferred to negotiate with members of the legislature in private and work out deals. Much of that, I think, comes from kind of his own personality and also his background working as a diplomat.

NORRIS: The economy will take a center stage in the 2012 election, for obvious reasons. And many of the GOP candidates are describing themselves as people who can create jobs. Did he, in fact, do that when he was governor?

Prof. BURBANK: Certainly, when he was initially elected governor the state economy was doing very well. It had been doing well for a number of years before that. Certainly, there was job growth in his time after he was elected governor, once he started serving in 2005. And like all other states, once the financial problems hit in 2008, you know, the state suffered from those. Fortunately, not as much as some of the surrounding states, but still, you know, job creation went down after 2008.

NORRIS: Jon Huntsman was elected twice to the governor's office in the state of Utah, the second time with 78 percent of the vote - large percentage. Is it likely that he might score numbers that large on a national stage based on his record? And what are some of the issues that would be obstacles for him as he tries to reach out to the Republican Party on the national scale?

Prof. BURBANK: I think it's unlikely on a national scale you would ever see those kinds of numbers. This was a case where he was an incumbent governor. He was doing quite well and Democrats did not have strong opposition running against him. But it is clear that the kinds of things that would appeal to Republican primary voters, primarily, I think, would be his views on taxes, particularly his endorsement of flat tax.

He's consistently pro-life. He is somebody who, in general, in terms of his overall philosophy of government, takes a relatively conservative view in the kind of older sense of that meaning of not making changes if you don't need to. But the kinds of things that would certainly be problematic for him, I think, would be the issue of climate change and what his views on that are.

He's now said that he's not as strong a supporter of cap and trade as he used to be. And also, again, on some social issues, civil unions being one of those, that's a position, which, again, many primary voters in the Republican Party are not going to be, you know, in complete sympathy with him on.

NORRIS: He comes from a very wealthy family and yet, he also has the image of the every man. He likes rock and roll. He dresses like a hipster sometimes. He rides a motorcycle. Does that, in the state of Utah, come across as something that is genuine or a bit of political posturing?

Prof. BURBANK: Part of that depends on, you know, how you perceive him. I think there are some people who think it's an attempt to say, oh, yes, my family may be well off but, you know, that's really not all who I am. For others, it is an expression of kind of the nature of his personality and he goes out of his way, I think, to emphasize that.

So, you know, in some ways, I think people have thought for a while that he must be aspiring to some higher office because why else go to the trouble of kind of creating this public image.

NORRIS: Matthew Burbank, thank you very much.

Prof. BURBANK: You're welcome.

NORRIS: Matthew Burbank is a professor of political science at the University of Utah.

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