As Jon Huntsman ponders a presidential run, many conservatives find themselves in a quandary on how to view his stances on a number of key fiscal and social issues.
The former Utah governor served five years as the state’s chief executive and during his tenure, enacted a flat tax, implemented private school vouchers and was well-liked by the state’s business leaders.
However, conservative voters develop heartburn when they hear of his support of cap and trade when discussing climate control, his support of civil unions for homosexual couples and his stance on immigration issues – all of which go against the grain of voters who lean to the right.
In his first State of the State speech as governor in 2005, Huntsman made his case for a more business-friendly tax structure by saying, “This can truly serve as an economic development tool to encourage entrepreneurs to keep their businesses located in our state and reinvest their capital time and time again.”
His tax plan included a new flat state income tax combined with a reduction of the sales tax on unprocessed food to 1.75 percent, down from 4.75 percent. Additionally, the final legislation included nearly $30 million in tax credits for renewable energy development and mining, two of the states more active industries.
Gov. Gary Herbert, who succeeded Huntsman after he resigned to accept an appointment from President Obama as the ambassador to China, defended Huntsman’s conservative credentials, saying, “Clearly, he’s a Republican who is conservative. He cut taxes and reformed the code. A lot of people wish we had more conservatives like that.”
Yet with all his fiscal success, Huntsman still has to fight off critics of his more liberal positions.
Fellow Republicans attacked his support of the Western Climate Initiative, a program that included cap-and-trade provisions and included six states and three Canadian provinces. Huntsman’s position on the cap-and-trade component has now changed, saying it will negatively impact job growth.
And there are other concerns as well.
While serving as Utah governor, Huntsman backed legislation providing civil rights protections to homosexuals and threatened to veto a bill repealing in-state college tuition for children of illegal immigrants.
The tuition law was implemented two years before he took office and the civil unions bill never came to a final floor vote in either the House or the Senate.
Like Romney, Huntsman is a Mormon.
He told ABC News last week, "I believe in God. I'm a good Christian. I'm very proud of my Mormon heritage. I am Mormon. Today, there are 13 million Mormons. It's a very diverse and heterogeneous cross-section of people. And you're going to find a lot of different attitudes and a lot of different opinions in that 13 million."
During the interview, he also said he doesn't believe his Mormon faith will be an issue if he runs for president.
"I think people want to know that you, if you get in the race, are going to be a problem solver. A pragmatic problem solver who's going to look laser-like on jobs and keeping this economy moving forward in ways that will maintain our preeminence in the world. I think everything else that people like to talk about, in many cases, are less relevant. In fact, some – some are sideshows."
Despite being a Mormon, Huntsman pushed through changes in the state’s liquor laws by making it easier to buy liquor by the drink, saying it was hurting business and tourism in the state.
As President Richard Nixon once said, “you’ve got to run to the right in a primary and then hurry back to the middle for the general election.”
If Huntsman decides to throw his hat into a soon-to-be crowded ring, Republican primary voters will be watching to see how quickly he reconciles his position on popular fiscal and social issues.