As Jon Huntsman is increasingly gaining momentum in the race for the GOP nomination for president we thought it would be a good idea to elaborate on our reasons for supporting his candidacy. We initially discussed Governor Huntsman’s merits in a piece entitled Draft Jon Huntsman in January of this year. But due to the increased interest in Jon we thought that an update would be worthwhile in order to highlight his record on the issues important to primary voters. As anyone who has followed the race knows, it has been an ever changing environment in which candidates and issues have had their time in the sun, only to be replaced in the span of weeks or even days. One thing has not changed, however, is that the dominant issue in this race is the state of the economy.
It is in every government’s best interest to ensure a healthy and thriving economy. A thriving, pro-growth economy’s prerequisites include a fair and understandable tax code; an educated workforce; free and easy movement of people and goods; minimal regulations; and government transparency. America needs a man who understands the short-term and long-term actions governments must take to ensure such an economy. We believe that man is Jon Huntsman. And here’s why.
As governor of Utah Jon Huntsman didn’t merely cut taxes, he completely overhauled the tax code. Working closely with legislators he signed the largest tax cut in state history and simplified the tax code into a modified flat tax system. As a result of this plan Utahans saw a decrease in income and sales tax of nearly $200 million and the state enjoyed a record tax revenue surplus and tripled its rainy-day fund -all while balancing its budget (something it would do during every year of his governorship). This sweeping tax reform, which was called “very Reaganesque” by the conservative Cato Institute, earned Jon the “Taxpayer Advocate” award from the Utah Taxpayers Association. This is a record of tax reform that the other GOP candidates simply can not claim.
A well-educated workforce can quickly adapt in an ever-changing marketplace to new innovation and technology. With its 2007 tax revenue surplus Utah was able to increase public education funding by a record $440 million. That same year Jon Huntsman signed into law the “Parent Choice in Education” act, a revolutionary school voucher program which the Heritage Foundation called “by far the most expansive school choice program in the nation” and declared that “Utah has taken the lead in providing real options to parents.” And finally, he was able to ensure teachers were more adequately compensated by guaranteeing all teachers a pay raise of $2,500 and a one-time bonus of $1,000.
Governor Huntsman is also a firm supporter of science education. He worked to develop science research and economic development in Utah, and was dedicated to improving education. In 2006 he signed the USTAR (Utah Science Technology and Research) initiative into law. This legislation authorized and funded the creation of research facilities at both Utah State University and the University of Utah. Advocates estimated that the bill would lead to 422 spin-off companies with 123,000 employees being paid an average of $81,000; nearly $5 billion in new federal grant money for Utah; and about $5 billion in new tax revenue for the state.
As Utah’s fortunes soared during Jon Huntsman’s governorship, so did its population growth. In a forward thinking plan Jon Huntsman committed $2.2 billion in state resources to infrastructure projects that would update the state’s road system to accommodate these new residents stating that “we cannot afford to stand back and watch traffic gridlock increase.” The plan is expected to create over 60,000 jobs between 2010 and 2014 when construction is due to take place. Nearly three years after leaving the governor’s mansion for Beijing, Governor Huntsman’s policies are still creating much-needed jobs for Utahans, a point we will come back to shortly.
Jon Huntsman has also pledged to remove several of the regulatory barriers to growth that have contributed to the current stagnant economic environment. In addition to repealing Dodd-Frank, Governor Huntsman has promised to shut down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, remove tax deductions for interest payments, fix the Basel III Accord and implement a plan that eliminates the country’s obligations towards bailing out companies that are Too Big To Fail. As governor of Utah Jon Huntsman oversaw regulatory reform in signing landmark legislation that relaxed the strict liquor laws that prevented restaurants from serving alcohol. This provided an opportunity for the state economy to maximize revenue from increased tourism. Total spending by travelers and tourists in 2008 reached $7.190 billion. Despite the national downturn, tourism spending reduced the tax burden on each Utah household in 2008 by approximately $708.
One of Jon Huntsman’s four key policy goals as governor was to make government more transparent. In 2008 he signed SB 38, a comprehensive bill aimed at promoting transparency in government. In 2009 he signed SB 18, an amendment to SB 38 that created an online government spending database. Governor Huntsman speaks of restoring the trust deficit between American citizens and Washington. His actions as governor show that this is more than just talk. They show that he has an impressive record of creating government transparency that this country desperately needs at this time in its history.
Which brings us to electability. While being the most consistent conservative in the GOP field Governor Huntsman has been able to craft a message that is strongly conservative while simultaneously appealing to independents and democrats in a way that the other candidates can not. Statistician Nate Silver of NYT/FiveThirtyEight blog has calculated that Jon Huntsman has the best statistical chance of beating Barack Obama in a head-to-head race. This is great news to be sure. But it is Jon Huntsman’s economic record that should be what keeps the DNC awake at night. As we mentioned earlier, Utah’s economy, while not as strong as it was during its peak (2004-2007) when Jon Huntsman was governor, remains #1 in the western U.S. and sixth overall. This can be directly attributed to the policies that were enacted during Jon Huntsman’s governorship, many of which involved projects that created an environment for future growth.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, President Obama does not have a campaign strategy for Jon Huntsman. One aspect of this race that has not been discussed is the difficulty President Obama would have in attacking Governor Huntsman. Governor Huntsman holds very few (if any) positions that the left will be able to demonize and his “issues first” attack-free campaign style will not allow the President to attack without turning off voters. The president is also on record as praising Jon for his service. Is he now going to come out and attack him? In short, the president would have to run an entirely different campaign against Jon Huntsman than he would have to run against any of the other challengers. We can not stress enough how afraid the White House is of Governor Huntsman.
America can not afford four more years of failed policies. Nor can it afford four years from candidates who seem more concerned with complaining about what is wrong with the country than they are providing bold plans to make it right. America needs someone who understands what it takes to make a company, a state, or a country competitive in the marketplace. In fact the word “competitive” can be found peppered throughout Jon Huntsman’s speeches as governor and as a presidential candidate. And what we hope this post has shown is that Jon Huntsman was unquestionably successful making his state not just competitive, but number one. America needs a president who can bring conservatism into the 21st century with a message that can win over independents and bring to the Republican party scores of what will one day be called “Huntsman Democrats.” This is why we believe that America needs Jon Huntsman.