Governor Jon Huntsman Jr.
UPDATE: Governor Huntsman emailed this afternoon following the broadcast of our interview which included a question on whether he would veto an assault weapons ban. He stated he would not veto such a ban, and emails to correct that answer:
“Hugh, I clearly misunderstood your question regarding the assault
weapons ban. I would absolutely veto the ban. I have always stood firmly for 2nd Amendment rights, and my record in Utah reflects it. With a name like ‘Huntsman’ it really goes without saying. My apologies for confusing your listeners. I look forward to being on your show again.”
Governor Jon Huntsman Jr was my guest in the first two segments of today’s program. The transcript of the interview is posted below.
HH: Pleased to welcome now Governor Jon Huntsman. Governor, welcome, it’s great to talk to you for the first time.
JH: Hugh, it’s a pleasure. Thanks for having me on the program.
HH: Now my friends, Leonard and Judy Frank, heard you speak at an event in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago, and they immediately asked me to get you on the show. They’re pretty cold-eyed about political rhetoric, but whatever your message was blew them away. What are you out there saying that’s getting people who are pretty cynical about politicians to give you an extended listen?
JH: Well, I think it really comes down to this. 2012 is going to be a critically important election cycle, because it really comes down to our direction as a country, whether we want to pursue a course of action that takes us to a top heavy government, central statist model, or whether simply we want to return to our capitalist root, which is free market, which is up by the bootstraps, and it’s rebuilding this country piece by piece. It isn’t going to be easy, but I like to call it a new industrial revolution. We’ve had them before. I was just up in northern New Hampshire, and I saw a lot of the carcasses, the skeletal remains of the last industrial revolution. And I kept asking myself this simple question. We’ve got everything a country needs to survive and succeed. We have rule of law, we have a Constitution, we have medical facilities, research facilities, colleges, universities, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit unlike any other country in the world. We just, we find ourselves in a total funk these days. We’re dispirited, we’re dejected. We’ve got to get back on our feet and be reminded about what has made us great over and over and over again, or we face the very real prospect of seeing the end of the American century, Hugh, and I am convinced that’s an un-American position for us to be in. [# More #]
HH: I want to spend a lot of time talking about that, and biography as well. But you’ve just led me to China where you’ve just returned after two plus years as ambassador. If you compare the energy level, and sort of the love of capitalism there versus our governmental approach to capitalism here, how do you compare and contrast those two?
JH: Well, China is on the move. They’ve had thirty years of 8, 9, 10% economic growth. You walk the streets of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, doesn’t matter where, people are euphoric, they are giddy with pride at what they’ve been able to do economically. Now obviously, it’s a much different model than ours. And when you kind of cut through a lot of the bluster there, you find that businesses want to become like American businesses. Students there want to come to our universities. The innovative class, the creative class, they want, they’re still inspired by the United States. Dissidents and freedom fighters still find the American flag as the symbol that makes them weep, because we are still the last hope when it comes to countries that are willing to stand up for freedom, democracy and human rights. So you’ve got this juggernaut that is moving forward, and all the while you stand 10,000 miles away in Beijing, and you reflect on the United States, and you say we have everything in the world in order to succeed. They have enormous challenges ahead despite what we read on the economic side, and despite the rise of their military, things that tend to frighten most Americans. Yet we are not making the most of our innate indigenous resources here. And it has everything to do with the environment that has been created in this country, which is not pro-growth. It is moving in the opposite direction. And that must be reversed, and it’s going to take tax reform, and it’s going to take regulatory reform. It’s going to take a serious move toward energy independence, and it’s going to take, quite frankly, a reflection on our relative position in the world, to look at where we are, to analyze it carefully, to say the most important thing for foreign policy that we could be doing right now is to build our core right here at home, because today it is weak, and with a weak core, we do not project power and goodness to the rest of the world, and won’t be able to until such time as we strengthen our core.
HH: Now Governor Huntsman, in your years in Beijing, and before that, your interaction with the Chinese, did you ever hear senior official express that common fear in America, that they were just going to stop buying our debt, that they were going to create a fiscal crisis for the United States? Is that on their minds?
JH: Never once. In fact, I would tell you that they view the U.S. market as the best market in the world, as the market they most want to interact with from an investment standpoint, from a trading standpoint. And I would say that longer term, you will probably see their $900-950 billion dollars in debts and Treasuries ebb and flow just a little bit. Keep in mind that the Japanese are about $850 billion. They’re right on their heels. That will ebb and flow a little bit, but they don’t have a whole lot of options in terms of where they can place their cash. They know it has an inflationary impact at home, it’s hot money. They’ve got to place it somewhere where the marketplace is stable. And in conversations I’ve had with them, they still deem the United States as being the most attractive and stable market in the world.
HH: It is widely believed that the Chinese were behind the Google hacks, and the various cyber attacks. To what do you attribute that? Is there a regime within the regime there, Jon Huntsman, that is rogue?
JH: There is a concerted effort on the part of the Chinese military, on the part of government, to infiltrate and penetrate whatever they can find here in the United States that might bring them value, value in terms of understanding where our thinking it, value in terms of understanding our latest technology, and it is done very, very aggressively, and without rules and without boundaries. And this is something that we’ve got to begin to understand, because I do believe that now and going forward, cyber security for this country will be extremely important. When you start seeing the plans for the F-22 begin showing up in strange places, you know that the effort, the money, the brainpower that we’ve put into some of our best innovations, if we can’t protect those, if we can’t come up with countermeasures against those who seek to rip us off, then we’re going to be discounted and hobbled for the rest of our future.
HH: But would military officials dare do things like mount cyber attacks without the knowing consent of the politburo and the leadership in China, Governor?
JH: Even though there is a serious divide between the civilian and military leadership teams, you would have to imagine that all decisions are made through the central military commission, the CMC. That is chaired by Hu Jintao, that’s the party secretary-general and the president of the country. They would basically review all of these decisions, and I would suspect that they would give the go.
HH: All right, Governor, I want to do a little biography, because it’s the first time we’ve talked, and for my audience, perhaps the first time they’ve heard you if they are not familiar with Utah politics or China or these things. Would you tell people where you were born and raised, and how many siblings did you have, and where you grew up?
JH: I was born in California, raised in Los Angeles, moved to Maryland for a few years while my father worked in the Nixon administration for a brief period of time. We then moved out to Utah, where we started what then was a small and fragile family business. Today, it is a larger and sometimes still fragile business, although it has gone public. My brother runs that today. I am one of seven, the oldest of seven. We have a terrific family. I married a high school sweetheart, although I could never get a date with her at the time. It took years and years, even though we ended up working at the same restaurant during our early dating years. She is from Florida. We together have seven kids, five on our own, two adopted, one from China, one from India. We have lived in many places, Hugh, during our years together, 28 years together, lived over in Asia four times. She’s been there three of those times. We have lived East Coast and West Coast. Obviously our years at governor in the great state of Utah, and…
HH: Where did you go to high school, Governor?
JH: Went to Highland High School in Salt Lake City, Utah.
HH: Okay, any particular individuals outside of your family influential in your life? Any high school teachers or coaches, or anything like that?
JH: I would have to say that there are always teachers who were influential growing up. For me, I was a piano player growing up. I had music teachers who were extremely influential. I worked for a man named Ronald Reagan during his first term as the lowest level man on the White House staff.
HH: That was my job, Governor. That was me in the Counsel’s office.
JH: Well, and I’ve heard about that, and know many of your good friends. And so I traveled with President Reagan in 1982-83, went over to China with him in 1984 for his first trip there, and watched a great man, and was influenced enormously by the way that he conducted his business, and the way he saw the world, and the way that he managed this great country of ours.
HH: You’ve got a great man for a father. Your father’s got an incredible story. You’re his oldest son. What’s his advice to you about running for president?
JH: His advice is you’ve been given some remarkable opportunities to serve your country, this is a time of need, you have a choice, you either stand on the sidelines, or you do as Teddy Roosevelt would have preached, and you get in the arena. And in terms of somebody who’s been given terrific opportunities to serve, to be in a family business, to have a wonderful family, and this country’s been mighty good to my family, you don’t have a choice. You look at the problems today, you talk to people, you see about putting an organization together, and you look at getting in and doing whatever you can to leave this country a better place. And that’s right now what we’re in the middle of doing.
HH: Do you expect that he’ll spend his personal fortune in support of your campaign in an independent expenditure committee?
JH: We’re going to get out and raise the money. Any family money there is goes to charity. We’ve been involved in building the Huntsman Cancer Institute. My dad was a great visionary and brains behind that. I was president and CEO while he was chairman. We spent many years building that institution. We didn’t come into this world with anything, and don’t expect to leave with anything. And if the good Lord gives you something along the way by way of whatever you’ve done in the free market, then it’s our philosophy that you turn around and plow it back in and try to make people’s lives a little bit better. And if you can do that by finding a cure, too, for cancer, then that probably goes down as the most important thing you could do in life, despite, beyond raising a good family.
HH: Governor, you mentioned the good Lord. You active in your church, you served a mission, in fact, in Taiwan. What was that like? How did that change you?
JH: It was an eye-opening experience in the late 1970s for a 19 year old who had never lived outside of the country. You begin to understand first and foremost who you are, how you operate, what your belief systems are. Second, you really begin to understand the power, might and majesty of the United States. So I got to Taiwan in 1979, right when the United States had formally broken its diplomatic relationship with Taiwan, and recognized the mainland. Of course, the people in Taiwan were irate. I didn’t know why they were irate at the time. Of course, I learned later in great detail the history and the politics behind that move. But it was an eye-opening experience, one that has left an indelible impression, Hugh, about how the world sees the United States, and indeed the power of the United States in influencing the world for good, when we’re up to it, and when we have a strong core, and when we’re able to talk about expanding freedom, democracy, human rights, and promoting open market reforms.
HH: Governor, let’s close with four quick issue sets to get you located on the political map. Do you support a right to life amendment?
JH: I do support a right to life amendment.
HH: Would you veto an assault weapons ban?
JH: I would not veto an assault weapons ban.
HH: Would you veto repeal of the Defense Of Marriage Act?
JH: I personally am for civil unions. I don’t think we do an adequate job when it comes to equality at that level. I am for traditional marriage. I would have to look carefully at the language.
HH: And then finally, Israel. Can you tell people, if you were the president of the United States, what your policy and attitude towards Israel, and of course, their ruthless enemy, Iran and Hezollah would be?
JH: Well, first and foremost, we need to do a better job defining who our friends and allies are in the world. People don’t remember who are friends and allies are. Neither do some of our friends and allies, including Israel. That’s a relationship that needs to be strengthened first and foremost by defining what it means to be an ally of the United States. That presupposes military, the military cooperation, military sales, free trade agreements, going to the protection of others, and particularly being willing to stand behind Israel as Iran moves closer and closer to weaponization. Nobody knows when that’s likely to happen, but they’re moving in that direction, seemingly. And we think things are tough now in the Middle East? You wait until Iran moves towards weaponization, and we’ve got some really tough decisions then to make.
HH: Have you been surprised by President Obama’s positions towards Israel, which some people understand to be hostile?
JH: Well, it is hostile. We can’t hope for peace or progress more than Israel. They are at the negotiating table. They understand the dynamics better than anybody else. When you drop a precooked, a preconceived outcome, as happened in 2009 on settlements, or most recently on the ’67 borders, in the middle of the negotiating table, when temperatures are high, when the Middle East seems to be in fumble formation, when you need progress on regional security and settlements, all of which are making little progress at this point, you do the negotiating process a great disservice. And I think that is what was done, and it has likely set back the process. We’ve got to let the people at the negotiating table, first and foremost the government of Israel, decide the pace and the timing at which they would like to take up some of these more sensitive issues.
HH: Governor Jon Huntsman, a real pleasure, I look forward to having you back throughout the primary season, thanks for your time today.
JH: Thank you, Hugh, it’s a real honor.
End of interview.