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Huntsman to take post in Obama administration



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SALT LAKE CITY -- Sources have confirmed to KSL News that Gov. Jon Huntsman will resign as governor of Utah and accept a position in the Obama administration as U.S. Ambassador to the People's Republic of China.

The role of ambassador will not be a new one for Huntsman, as he has served in the position before. He was an ambassador to Singapore during the administration of President George H.W. Bush, from 1992 to 1993. He has also worked as a deputy trade representative.

The White House is expected to make the official acceptance Saturday.

Utah political leaders react to appointment

Although the news hasn't been officially announced, it's shaking the state's political community. A lot of people are stunned but most are not totally surprised.

Gov. Huntsman had just been re-elected in a landslide, but there was talk he had higher aspirations as far back as President Obama's inauguration. Since then, there have been several meetings reported between the governor and top White House officials.

Even here in Utah, Democrat Patrice Arent recalls such a meeting. "It's my understanding that when Rham Emmanuel was out here in February, he met with Governor Huntsman at that time," she said.

The governor's interest in China is well-known: He and the first lady have adopted a little girl from China, Gracie Mae. The Governor's Office has souvenirs from China. Gov. Huntsman speaks Mandarin Chinese, served and LDS Mission in Taiwan and served as an ambassador to Singapore.

Huntsman's diplomatic skills are also well-known. Given that, political pollster Dan Jones says Huntsman's probable departure is not a total shock. "He is so talented, and to find people that qualified to be ambassador to China is rare," he said.

Politically, this news is big on many levels, creating an interesting contest for governor next year.

If Huntsman does indeed resign, state law dictates Utah Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert would become the acting governor until a special election in 2010.

As lieutenant governor, his primary assignments have been over homeland security, transportation and water issues.

Hebert was a member of the Utah County Commission before becoming lieutenant governor. He's the former president of the Utah Association of Realtors. He's married to Jeanette Herbert and they have six children.

Huntsman not the first to leave for position in presidential administration

Gov. Jon Huntsman wouldn't be the first Utah governor to leave mid-term to go to work for the federal government. Mike Leavitt did it six years ago.

Former Gov. Leavitt was sworn in as Health and Human Services Secretary in January of 2005. Before that, President George W. Bush nominated him to head up the Environmental Protection Agency. He took that job in October 2003 after resigning his governorship. A week later, Lt. Gov. Olene Walker was sworn in as Utah's first and, so far, only female governor.

Leavitt left state government after becoming only the second Utah Governor to be elected to a third term. He was first elected the fourteenth governor of Utah back in 1992.

Leavitt was in Salt Lake Friday night, being honored by BYU. He took a minute to talk to KSL about the reports that Huntsman is leaving the State House.

"He speaks the language. He knows the culture. He's well-respected in the United States. He'll be a remarkable ambassador. The president has made a good choice," Leavitt said.

Stay with KSL 5 News, KSL.com and KSL Newsradio for continuing coverage of this story.

E-mail: rpiatt@ksl.com

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