Huntsman to accept ambassadorship to China

Announcement Saturday » Gary Herbert to become Utah governor
This is an archived article that was published on in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. will resign from office to accept a nomination to become the ambassador to China.

Sources tell The Salt Lake Tribune that an announcement is scheduled for Saturday. Huntsman is in Washington, D.C., but calls to his spokeswoman and various staffers were not returned Friday night.

Huntsman, who had been mentioned as a potential Republican contender for the White House, was nominated by President George H.W. Bush as ambassador to Singapore -- he was the youngest ambassador in over a century --- and later was nominated by President George W. Bush to serve as Deputy United States Trade Representative. He was unanimously confirmed to both positions.

He speaks Mandarin Chinese and he and his wife, Mary Kaye, have adopted a daughter from China.

Huntsman had been scheduled to travel to China next week as part of a delegation of Western governors visiting the nation to discuss climate change, alternative energy and clean air technologies.

That trip was canceled due to concerns by some of the governors over the swine flu outbreak.

Huntsman will be replaced by Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert who would serve through 2010, at which time a replacement would be elected until 2012.

Contacted Friday evening, Joe Demma, Herbert's chief of staff, said neither he nor the lieutenant governor knew anything about any Huntsman appointment.

"The lieutenant governor doesn't have any idea what's happening," Demma said. "He and the governor just got re-elected. He's looking forward to his second term and supporting Governor Huntsman."

When Huntsman ran for re-election last year, there were already rumors that he might be considered for a Cabinet position should Sen. John McCain, who Huntsman supported, win the presidency. He was challenged by his Democratic opponent during a debate to commit to serving out his four-year term and Huntsman responded: "That's exactly what I intend to do."

Tim Bridgewater, who has worked with Huntsman and recently launched a U.S. Senate bid, said there was discussion within the administration months ago about Huntsman receiving the position, but it had not been talked about recently.

"If you look at his breadth of experience as an ambassador, as a U.S. [Trade Representative}, as a chief executive of what the American economy is all about, all the way from small business to big business ... I think he has the most unique qualifications and capabilities of any ambassador every appointed to China," Bridgewater said.

Utah Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Holland, who was in Washington for party meetings, had not heard about the appointment, but he was not surprised. He said when he was on the same flight to Obama's inaugural the governor told Holland that he had had three serious conversations with the administration about a role in the administration.

About Jon Huntsman Jr.

Age: 49

Family: Wife, Mary Kaye, and seven children, including two adopted daughters from China and India.

Profession: Huntsman Chemical companies; first president of Huntsman Cancer Foundation.

Education: Attended Highland High and University of Utah; bachelor's degree in international politics from the University of Pennsylvania.

Political history: Elected in 2008 by a record margin to a second term as governor; chairman of the Western Governors Association; deputy U.S. trade representative under President George W. Bush; ambassador to Singapore under President George H. W. Bush (at the time the youngest ambassador in more than a century); worked on campaigns of President Reagan, Bob Dole and George W. Bush and backed John McCain in 2008; legislative intern for Sen. Orrin Hatch.

Hobbies: Mountain biking, playing piano, reading.

Other tidbits: Went on LDS mission to Taiwan; speaks Mandarin Chinese; hates air conditioning -- family has to sneak it on at night.