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In our opinion: Huntsman grew into the job

Published: Monday, Aug. 10 2009 12:10 a.m. MDT

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. addresses the Utah Legislature.

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When he was elected, nobody knew what to expect.

The chattering classes feared he'd be an empty suit — that his privileged upbringing would insulate him from everyday Utahns and his lack of experience would isolate him from power brokers.

But instead of being off-balance, he has kept others off balance. He has proven to be his own man and, in the process, flustered more than a few politicians who have been unable to pin him down. His attitudes about alcohol, gays and other social engineering issues have kept conservatives scratching their heads.

Unlike Larry Miller, they claim they don't know this guy.

The citizens of Utah, however, apparently do.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. was re-elected with 77 percent of the vote last time out. And his 80 percent approval rating is up there in Ronald Reagan territory.

More than an empty suit, Huntsman has flexed a few muscles and filled out nicely as a Western governor.

Now, he heads east as the U.S. ambassador to China.

When Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin stepped down as governor to pursue "higher goals," she complained that other governors got a pass for leaving office while she was pilloried. She may have had Huntsman in mind.

But answering a higher call is not the same as seeking a higher calling. And Huntsman has shown a nice sense of timing and occasion — two gifts that will serve him well as he moves onto the national stage.

He also has filled his resume with some impressive accomplishments.

He has presided over record tax surpluses and record tax cuts. He has been a progressive on climate issues but a conservative in business circles. He has championed education and the four-day work week.

But most of all, he has shown an ability to adjust to circumstances. The old saying is old because it's true: Politics is the art of the possible. And as governor, Huntsman always dwelt in possibilities. The fact he has achieved so much success speaks well of his managerial skills.

In short, send that old empty suit to the cleaners. The man headed to China has both looked and acted the part of a leader.

What's more, his future looks tailor-made for national politics.

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