90% of Utahns like how Huntsman does job

Published: Monday, Jan. 26 2009 12:00 a.m. MST

You can't get more popular than Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.

No, really. It's just about impossible. Not your homecoming queen, not the star player for the Utah Jazz. Not even the University of Utah 2008 football team.

A new Deseret News/KSL-TV poll shows that 90 percent of Utahns approve of the job Huntsman is doing as governor.

And those good feelings about elected leaders bleeds over into legislative politics as well.

The new survey conducted by Dan Jones & Associates finds that 64 percent of Utahns approve of the job the state's 104 part-time lawmakers are doing.

That is a great number for a mostly anonymous legislative body.

By comparison, only 41 percent of Utahns approve of the job Congress is doing.

Huntsman said he is "humbled and honored" to have such approval from Utahns.

"It's great to have the people's support, which only helps to reinforce your own sense of direction, particularly in such a critically important time in our state's history."

He said he has never shied away from taking on politically difficult issues and has not tried to just stay popular. The 90 percent rating "goes to show that our policy barometer is consistent with that of the public, which is always good news when you are trying to move the state forward, particularly in areas that sometimes are a bit controversial."

Huntsman has received some flak recently over his push to loosen Utah's liquor laws, making them "more hospitable" to tourists and those relocating to Utah for work.

Huntsman's 90 percent approval rating ties a record. And only once before, after the 1996 Legislature, did a governor — then Gov. Mike Leavitt — get a 90 percent approval rating.

That 1996 Legislature gave an $80 million tax cut, and the lawmakers then received a 69 percent approval rating from Utahns, Jones found 12 years ago.

Huntsman and legislators no doubt will need their high approval ratings as the Legislature convenes Monday for its 45-day general session.

The hugely popular governor and well-liked Legislature are struggling to balance both the current year's budget and adopt a new spending plan for next fiscal year, which begins July 1, that will contain reductions in needed state programs.

Thousands of state workers could be laid off in the budget cutbacks.

The state is hundreds of millions of dollars short in tax revenue — with a new State Tax Commission report showing a drop of $266 million in tax collections in just the first six months of this fiscal year.

With his 90 percent approval rating, Republicans, Democrats and independents alike like Huntsman, Jones found.

The Legislature's popularity is more partisan. Jones found that 78 percent of Utah Republicans like the job the Legislature is doing. Only 47 percent of Democrats like the Legislature. Fifty-three percent of political independents like the job lawmakers are doing.

Republicans hold two-third majorities in both the 75-member House and the 29-member Senate. Republicans have controlled the Legislature since the late 1970s, so Utahns in general know which political party makes the calls on Capitol Hill.

E-mail: bbjr@desnews.com

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