“Well, he’s a politician,” I replied to my son’s question as to whether Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert is conservative. We were having a discussion about Governor Huntsman’s nomination by President Obama to serve as U.S. Ambassador to China.
At some point, Gov. Huntsman will resign and Lt. Gov. Herbert will be sworn in as governor, as provided by last year’s Amendment A to the state constitution. (There had previously been confusion as to whether the lt. gov. actually became governor or merely acting governor in such cases.) As governor, Herbert will get to select a new lieutenant governor that will need to be approved by the state senate.
I explained to my son that it is my understanding that Herbert is generally more conservative than Huntsman, particularly on social issues. At any rate, Herbert’s ascendency will change the way state government works as some Huntsman staffers are replaced with Herbert’s own people, as explained in this Pignanelli & Webb column.
Since the vacancy will occur during the first year of Gov. Huntsman’s second term, the law requires that a special election must be held at the next general election to permanently fill the remainder of the term. The next general election is in November 2010. Herbert will remain governor at least until then.
This SL-Trib article lists a number of possible candidates that may oppose Herbert in that election. But it also notes that Herbert has a leg up on most of these would be competitors. Many of them were planning for 2012 and simply won’t be able to pull their funding and organization together in time for 2010.
An exception to that might be Congressman Jim Matheson (D-UT). For a Democrat, he’s fairly conservative. He’s Mormon. (Let’s face it. In Utah at present that makes a difference.) He’s the son of Scott Matheson, a fairly popular Utah governor. Rep. Matheson already has a sizeable campaign war chest that could be applied to the governor’s race.
My personal opinion is that Matheson could prevail within the bounds of his current congressional district, but that it would be very difficult for him to gain sufficient traction outside of that area. I’m not sure if he has better name recognition than Herbert. Most Utahans could not tell you who their lieutenant governor is. Of course, many couldn’t tell you who their congressional representative is or who their senators are either. But by the time the 2010 election is held, Herbert will have been governor for a year and a half. You can bet that he will make every effort to be the only person most people will think about for governor during that time.
Regardless of who wins in 2010, there will be another gubernatorial election in 2012, according to the normal term cycle. Pretty much anyone that is willing to do what it takes to be competitive in the 2010 race certainly has an eye on 2012. This makes for two short fundraising cycles that will reduce the field of true contenders. Some may still compete to demonstrate interest and to start building a base for the future.
There are a lot of winners with the President’s nomination of Gov. Huntsman. Huntsman has been touted by many moderate Republicans as an up-and-comer in the party, perhaps with presidential possibilities. This new appointment will take him out of running for 2012, so Obama will never have to face him.
Huntsman wins too. He has made no bones about the fact that his true love is diplomatic work. He has suggested that he’d rather be Secretary of State than President. Besides that, he speaks Mandarin Chinese and has a good working knowledge of China and of issues related to that nation. He is eminently qualified for the position.
Utah grass roots Republicans can also be happy. Their alliance with Gov. Huntsman has never been an easy one. Given Huntsman’s recent socially liberal pronouncements and his unwillingness to show his face at state GOP events, many will be happy to see him get the heck out of Utah. There’s no great love lost there. I am not the only one to suggest that Huntsman might fit better in the Democratic Party than in the GOP. Pignanelli & Webb say that we should “not be surprised if Huntsman returns from China … as a Democrat.”
One thing’s for sure; next year’s session of the legislature will end up being a lot different than would have been the case if Huntsman were still governor. Some will say that this is a good thing. Others will think otherwise. But I’m pretty sure that you won’t see any use of the governor’s office to support civil unions and the global warmist agenda.