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SALT LAKE CITY -- Gary Herbert became Utah's 17th governor following the resignation of Gov. Jon Huntsman Tuesday afternoon. Will the new governor take the state in a different direction?
During his inaugural address, Herbert sounded familiar conservative themes. A new Dan Jones poll for KSL-TV and the Deseret News shows many Utahns are ready for a center-right approach.
It was hard to miss the contrast between the two governors during Tuesday's ceremony: Huntsman stressing in a forward-thinking philosophy; Herbert advocating self-reliance and a limited role for government.
Huntsman leaves with stratospheric popularity ratings. In our poll of 400 Utahns, nearly two-thirds say they'd vote for him if he returned from China and ran again.
That poll also asked: What political ideology would you like to see in your new governor?
- 45 percent say very or somewhat conservative
- 33 percent say moderate
- 10 percent say liberal
"I hope it will be a little more on the conservative side than what Governor Huntsman was, but we'll see. I liked everything that now-Governor Herbert said," said Cottonwood Heights resident Ira Russell Boyer.
Payson resident Kepi Heimuli told us, "I'm glad to have a conservative Republican in there, and someone who will have an open-door policy to people. I firmly believe if I wanted to talk to him, I'd have an opportunity to go in and talk to him."
Now-Ambassador Huntsman is regarded as generally more moderate and, according to our poll, most Utahns see him that way.
- 44 percent see him as more moderate
- 41 percent call him conservative
Meanwhile, just over half of Utahns polled see Gov. Herbert as conservative, with just 12 percent calling him a moderate; 33 percent say they don't know.
Policy differences will start to be obvious as soon as the next legislative session, and Herbert says economic growth is his top priority.
But steering that economy will be a challenge, most directly as Herbert and state lawmakers are seeing the kind of unemployment figures and budget woes recent governors have not had to deal with. The state budget faces a $700 million shortfall, and that will mean many tough choices.
Herbert says growing the economy will create jobs and revenues to help fund education, health care, transportation and more.
"If we can get the economy right, most everything else falls into place," Herbert said.
Salt Lake Chamber President Lane Beattie said, "This legislative session will probably be the most difficult legislative session we've ever had in 25 years of my existence here. That's because we've had two years we had to cut. We'll have another year where we have to go in and look at some pretty severe challenges."
"You know, the budget is going to be the big issue. The shortfalls that we're having, the budget is going to be front and center for everyone," said Rep. Kory Holdaway, R-Taylorsville.
In addition to the economy, Gov. Herbert says he plans to focus on education and energy.
Another challenge the new governor faces is a busy schedule: Next year is an election year, so he'll be governing while running to keep his job.