Jon Huntsman Jr., the next chapter

Jon Huntsman Jr., the next chapter

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SALT LAKE CITY — At the end of last week, I sat down for an interview with Jon Huntsman, Jr., former Utah governor, former U.S. ambassador to China and former presidential candidate. We talked about a number of things, including the state of political discourse in America, the impact of super PACs and the politics of global warming, which (spoiler alert!) is the focus of a story we're running next Friday (only on KSL) after the Olympics.

Huntsman seemed tan, rested and ready. Not so much for another political run. (He said it's way too earlier to consider that.) More for the next chapter in his public life, though just what that is is evolving.

He's serving on some corporate and philanthropic boards, including that of the University of Pennsylvania (his alma mater), Ford Motor Company, and Huntsman Cancer Foundation.

Jon Huntsman Jr., the next chapter

The Brookings Institution recently announced he's joining them as a distinguished fellow, where he'll take part in a wide range of events and research projects. He and his wife Mary Kaye will be honored and will speak at Equality Utah's annual Allies Dinner next month. He's signed up with a national speaker's organization, so he'll have a chance to address groups around the country, speak out on the issues of the day and stay in the spotlight.

(Those gigs are often well compensated, but we didn't get into specifics of that.)

The most striking thing I came away with is that, like many Americans, he seemed deeply dissatisfied with the current state of politics. He said, even though he's been to practically every convention since Reagan and was often a delegate, he won't attend the GOP convention in Tampa next month. His frustration with party politics, both R's and D's, could not have been more clear.

"The party has become a holding company for super PACs," he said, describing the Citizen's United Supreme Court case, which opened the door to unlimited, secret money in campaigns as disastrous.

Huntsman said he longed for the party of Lincoln, who elevated "the notion of individual liberty," of Roosevelt (Teddy, not Franklin), who stood up to too-large corporations "in the name of fairness and equality" and Eisenhower "who built our infrastructure."

Huntsman said he longed for the party of Lincoln, who elevated "the notion of individual liberty," of Roosevelt (Teddy, not Franklin), who stood up to too-large corporations "in the name of fairness and equality" and Eisenhower "who built our infrastructure."

He talked like a moderate Republican who feels his party has left him behind. Clearly his message in the 2012 race never gained enough traction with GOP primary voters, and one has to wonder if there's much room in the Big Tent Republican Party for guys who are OK with civil unions and think global warming is real and deserves urgent attention.

("Call me crazy," he famously tweeted during the campaign, talking about believing the science.)

In our discussion, he didn't talk much about Romney, Obama, or his former runningmate and successor as Utah governor, Gary Herbert. The focus was more on big principles and not much on personalities.

Despite his frustration, I didn't get the sense that he's at all done being a part of the national political conversation. The 2012 race raised his profile and he's now well positioned to opine on a variety of issues, including the issue of money in politics, and especially foreign policy.

As a student of history, Huntsman knows how in a few short years things can change. By 2016, who knows what the political landscape will look like? By that time, the voting public, particularly that broad swath of Americans in the middle who feel Republican/Democratic "duopoly," as he called it, hasn't been able to get it done or bring people together, may be ready for a new approach.

Jon Huntsman Jr., the next chapter

He said he wants a political system that's looking to do "not what's right for a party, what's right for a smaller sub-group of people, but what's right for our nation."

Is Jon Huntsman the guy to make that Teddy Roosevelt-esque message resonate, someday? Who knows.

His political fate will no doubt hinge on who wins in 2012. An Obama win, and all potential challengers would be looking at a wide open field in 2016.

A Romney win, and challengers would have to consider taking on an incumbent. And think about how things changed from pre-9/11 election 2000 to election 2004. Or how about 2008, when the recession was just hitting and 2012, when its impact has hit so many families so hard, for fours years?

Jon Huntsman's road took him from Utah governor to U.S. Ambassador to China to presidential candidate in the course of just a couple of years. Now, he seems ready to just catch his breath, and mull over what's next.

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John Daley


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