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Name: Huntsman, Jon
Current Position: Former Ambassador

Jon M. Huntsman Jr. does not fit the typical profile of a U.S. ambassador. Generally, ambassadors fall into one of two camps: Career diplomats; or wealthy political contributors rewarded for their support of the president and his party. Huntsman has never been in the Foreign Service, and as a conservative Republican, he supported President Barack Obama’s opponent, Sen. John McCain. Huntsman assumed the position of Ambassador to China on August 11, 2009, and announced his resignation effective April 30, 2011.

In receiving the nod for ambassador to China, Huntsman has seemingly spawned a new category: Would-be political threat. Following Obama’s convincing victory last November, Huntsman’s name began to circulate among GOP leaders as a possible, and serious, challenger in 2012. The president’s own top advisors agreed that the governor of Utah could be a problem come re-election time, so why not offer him a plum diplomatic post and get him out of the country?
Born March 26, 1960, in Palo Alto, California, Huntsman is a seventh generation Utahan and one of nine children of Karen and Jon Huntsman. His maternal grandfather, David B. Haight, was an Apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His father, also a devout member of the Mormon Church, became a billionaire businessman and philanthropist after building the Huntsman Corporation into one of the world’s largest chemical companies.
Huntsman dropped out of high school to be in a rock band. He later attended the University of Utah, where he became a member of the Sigma Chi Fraternity, but did not graduate. Instead, he transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, where he received a bachelor’s degree in international politics.
From 1987 to 1988, Huntsman and his family lived and worked in Taipei as Mormon missionaries, which allowed him to become fluent in Mandarin Chinese. After college, he joined the Reagan White House as a staff assistant. He remained in Washington after George H. W. Bush became president, serving as deputy assistant commerce secretary in the trade development bureau from 1989-1990, as deputy commerce secretary for East Asia and the Pacific, and as U.S. Ambassador to Singapore (1992-1993). Huntsman was only 32 when he received his first ambassadorship, making him the youngest head of an American diplomatic mission in more than a hundred years.
After his overseas posting ended, Huntsman left government service to go work as an executive in his family’s chemical empire. But political life proved too exciting for Huntsman to stay away from, and in 2001 he accepted an appointment from President George W. Bush to serve as deputy United States trade representative. He then decided to use his wealth and political connections in Utah to run for governor in 2004. He easily defeated Democrat Scott Matheson, Jr. with 57% of the vote, and had an even easier time with his re-election in November 2008, garnering 77% while knocking off Democratic nominee Bob Springmeyer.
During his tenure as governor, Utah was named the best managed state by the Pew Research Center. His biggest political controversy came early in 2009 when he publicly backed civil unions for gay couples, even though he had backed a state constitutional amendment passed in 2004 that prohibited same-sex marriage. The decision angered conservatives in his state and his party. In response to his action, GOP officials in Michigan canceled a county fundraiser where Huntsman was to speak.
Huntsman reportedly first met with members of Obama’s team late in 2008 about a possible appointment in the administration. He nevertheless went ahead with his preliminary plans to feel out GOP leaders about running for president in 2012. Huntsman traveled to Columbia, South Carolina, in February for a meeting with state business and political leaders. Richard Quinn, a longtime South Carolina Republican strategist who worked for McCain in 2000 and 2008, said everyone was impressed with Huntsman and that “he seemed to me to be a bright hope for 2012.”

Outside of his political work, Huntsman has served as president and CEO of the Huntsman Cancer Foundation, and as chair of the Utah Opera, Envision Utah, KSL radio’s Family Now Campaign, and the National Governors Association’s Natural Resources Committee. Huntsman is also a branch director of Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, a member of the advisory board of the University of Utah School of Business and a member emeritus of the board of trustees for the University of Pennsylvania.
Huntsman’s personal interests include rock music and extreme sports. Back in 2005 he got up on stage at an REO Speedwagon concert and played piano for two songs. Two years later he proclaimed July 30, 2007, to be “Dream Theater Day,” in honor of the progressive metal rock band, whose concert Huntsman attended.
He also loves motorcycles. His gubernatorial office has been described as a shrine to extreme sports and motocross racing, replete with model motorcycles and photos of a mud-caked Huntsman riding a dirt bike.
Huntsman’s wife, Mary Kaye, is a first-generation Utahn. Together they have seven children, including an adopted girl from China and another from India.
Huntsman, Interrupted (by Zvika Krieger, New Republic)
Utah’s GOP Governor Chosen as China Envoy (by Michael D. Shear, Washington Post)
Interview: Gov. Huntsman (by Alexander Burns, Politico)
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