Huntsman and Huntsboy

From The New York Times:

SALT LAKE CITY — Jon M. Huntsman Jr. was 10 years old when his father packed up their growing family to move east in 1970, leaving behind his fledgling company to work for President Richard M. Nixon.

A driven businessman with deep roots in the Mormon Church, the elder Huntsman found little to like about his experience in the Nixon White House. It was poorly run, in his view — not at all like a business — and he felt terrorized by H. R. Haldeman, the mercurial chief of staff.

“You asked me what I took out,” he told an interviewer years later. “I didn’t take anything but fear out.”
Yet Mr. Huntsman did leave Washington with something that proved valuable when he resettled his family here: a thick Rolodex and a deep understanding of politics. In the years that followed, as he became a billionaire industrialist, a philanthropist, a campaign donor and one of Utah’s most powerful men, his connections and wealth proved critical in carving a path into politics for his namesake and eldest son.

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Today the younger Huntsman is a Republican candidate for president at the back of a crowded pack. He is best known as a former Utah governor, conversant in Mandarin and politically moderate, who crossed party lines to become President Obama’s ambassador to China. On the campaign trail, he has cultivated a reputation as “the civility candidate.”

But here in Utah, where many still call him Junior, he remains, for better or worse, Jon Huntsman Sr.’s son. It is both his blessing and his burden.

The father-son bond preoccupies political circles here. Some say Mr. Huntsman, who has alternated between the family business and public service — including a stint as ambassador to Singapore at age 32 — has been groomed for politics. Some see him as struggling to emerge from his father’s shadow, or wonder if, in pursuing the presidency, he is chasing his father’s dream.

Captain Underpants, Mittsie, Chimpy, and now Jonny Boy.  What’s with them and their trying-to-outdo-daddy issues?

Mr. Huntsman, 51, says he is pursuing nobody’s dream but his own.


As founder and chairman of the Huntsman Corporation (the company is run by Peter Huntsman, Jon Jr.’s brother), the elder Huntsman presides over a global chemical manufacturer with 2010 revenues of $9.3 billion. Having briefly flirted with a run for governor in 1988, he has worked over the years to ease his son’s path, according to those who know them both.

In Washington, allies like Jake Garn, a Republican former senator from Utah, who later worked for the Huntsman Corporation, recommended Mr. Huntsman for jobs. In Utah, the father quietly pressed state leaders to install the son as the head of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics — a job that ultimately went to Mitt Romney, one of Mr. Huntsman’s rivals for the Republican presidential nomination. He has been a financial backer of his son’s campaigns.


American politics has long been rife with dynasties — the names Adams, Roosevelt, Kennedy and Bush leap to mind. But in Utah, where politics and business are deeply entwined with the Mormon faith, there is no dynasty quite like the Huntsmans.


Mr. Huntsman’s mother, Karen — just as ambitious for her children as is her husband, many here say — was the daughter of one of 12 Mormon “apostles” who serve under the church president. Mr. Huntsman Sr., descended from Mormon pioneers, is revered for the hundreds of millions of dollars he has given to charity.

It is impossible to spend any time in Utah without stumbling across the Huntsman name. There are Huntsman teacher awards, Huntsman sporting events, a Huntsman arena and the gleaming glass and granite Huntsman Cancer Institute, the crown jewel of the family’s philanthropy.

“He had 94 percent name ID the day he started,” said Nolan Karras, who lost to Mr. Huntsman in a primary for governor.


The family fortune grew out of the elder Huntsman’s invention of the plastic foam “clamshell” container for McDonald’s Big Macs.


Their two years in Washington, where the elder Huntsman eventually became staff secretary to the president, left an impression. Young Jon Jr. met the president — “I remember a certain stiffness and formality,” he said — and trusted aides like Henry A. Kissinger and Alexander M. Haig.


By 1978, the family home in the foothills of the Wasatch mountain range here was a magnet for budding musicians, including Jon Jr., a keyboard whiz who could play almost anything, from Emerson, Lake and Palmer to Chopin. He ran for senior class president in high school, but lost. Later, he dropped out to join a rock ’n’ roll band — a test, but not a break, of the father-son bond.


Over the next two decades, Mr. Huntsman held a string of government jobs under President Ronald Reagan and both President Bushes: advance man, deputy assistant commerce secretary, ambassador to Singapore, trade ambassador.


At each turn, Mr. Huntsman’s family network played a role. One former official during the Reagan and first Bush administrations remembers the elder Huntsman seeking specific jobs for his son.


Mr. Garn, the former senator, said he spoke to Reagan about Mr. Huntsman after the young man sought his help. Fred Malek, a Nixon administration colleague of the father’s, recommended the son as ambassador to Singapore.


Mr. Huntsman acknowledges that his father’s “vast network” has helped open doors. But what matters, he says, is how he fared when he walked through them.


In substance and style, there are differences between the two men. The father, forceful and conservative, is close with the commentator Glenn Beck (yet is a sometime donor to Democrats). The son, soft-spoken, is often at odds with his party. In 2008, they split on presidential politics: the father backed Mr. Romney; the son, Senator John McCain.

Still, Mr. Huntsman has faced questions about whether he is his own man — so much so that when he first ran for governor, his campaign aides joked about making silver spoon lapel pins.

“I don’t think there’s much question that he would not have been ambassador to Singapore without his father’s strong support, and his father had a very good Rolodex in those days,” said Robert F. Bennett, a Republican former senator from Utah and Romney supporter, “but all reports are he did a very good job.”

Others are less charitable. “Look at where he’s been, look what he’s done,” said Bob Springmeyer, a Salt Lake businessman and Democrat who lost to Mr. Huntsman in 2008. “If you had dropped out of high school, could you have gotten into Penn? Do you think you’d be named trade ambassador without major campaign contributions?”


When Mr. Huntsman sought the governorship in 2004 — his first bid for elective office — aides insisted he would not buy his way into the job. Huntsman Corporation employees, its political action committee and family members gave $188,634 of the $2.8 million Mr. Huntsman raised that year, making the company his top contributor, according to records compiled by the Sunlight Foundation, an open government group.


In late June, Mr. Huntsman Sr. hosted his son’s top donors at his home in the Utah resort town of Deer Valley. David Fischer, a close Huntsman family friend who has just quit the campaign, told Politico last week that the elder Huntsman expressed concern about internal feuding and disarray.
“But there’s a limit to what the father can do,” Mr. Fischer was quoted as saying.


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17 responses to “Huntsman and Huntsboy

  1. johncerickson

    This would make a REALLY interesting case of “church and state separation” especially with Mumsie being so close. Not to mention financing and other support questions, as to how much is his and how much is “provided” by Daddy.
    Then again, I think the most likely response of most people will be “Who?”.
    And keep your guard up. There have been unconfirmed sightings of the rare Frankus Angelus around these parts! 😀

    • i’d like to see the huntsman family tree to see how many wives might have been present for each man a couple of generations ago. actually, i don’t care about huntsman being a mormon. what bothers me is the whole outdoing-daddy thing again (what’s with these rethugs? they all need therapy) and the entitlement mindset. these people think that they’re royalty and should get whatever they want just because they want it.

      p.s. i’m always excited by an unexpected frankus angelus sighting! 🙂

  2. Looks like dad was swimming at the shallow end of the gene pool.

  3. maggiejean

    It’s amazing that there are two Mormons running for the republicans. Have there ever been Mormons running for this high an office before? It appears that the Mormon Church is becoming more invested in national politics.

    • i would imagine that utah senate races have had mormons facing each other, but it hasn’t happened in a presidential race. i don’t know how this happened. my people just can’t get a break! 😉

  4. I have family and friends in Utah, but I never heard this story before. Thanks for the education!

    • i thought it was interesting when i saw it last night. i knew his father was a rich guy, but i didn’t know that he worked for nixon or just how rich he is.

  5. If Willard and Jon end up on the same ticket, you can do a parody using the Smith Brothers cough drop box. I checked out that link and it creeped me out! They can run on the Golden Plates ticket and send the campaign workers out to all corners of the country in dugout log canoes. And who needs money when the first tenat of old horny Joseph is to cull out as many women as possible (what could go wrong with that?) And I’m still peeved at my last contact with the usual pair knocking on my door back in Texas. I didn’t have to talk to them, but I did. After a couple of minutes the talking one asked me about a personal core belief matter to which I replied in a straightforward manor and then the guy challenged my religious upbringing and made a point of telling me how wrong my opinion was. I am not a violent person and have never started a fight in my life but that punkass came very close to getting his LDS ass whipped that day. Have had bad vibes about mormons every since. This country would elect a scientologist before they would a mormon.

    • when they come to my door, i’m so rude to them. i tell them to get the hell away from my door and to never come back again. my language might get a bit saltier than that, depending on my mood.

      • johncerickson

        We get Jehovah’s Witlesses … er … Witnesses. It was so fun for a while. Between my knowledge of history, and my wife’s extensive Biblical knowledge (she was brought up RIGHT – I was brought up a Godless heathen 😀 ), we could shoot down every weird claim they came up with. It got so, the lady who tried to convert us would bring new talent past. If they couldn’t handle us, they went back for more training. I once took on an older “senior member” fellow, who was trying to explain some funky thing about the End Times starting in 1916, and took him on a linguistic and military history tour. I later found out I gave HIM so much to think about, he quit! (See, you CAN have fun with religious people!)

        • i actually haven’t had any of them come around in a long time. when the jehovah’s witnesses and 7th day adventists would come around, i was kinder to them than i was the mormons. i didn’t listen to them and asked them not to come around again, but i wasn’t as rude as i am to the mormons.

          • johncerickson

            Oh, admit it, you’re just jealous they don’t let women have 7 husbands. I can just see you, reclined on a couch, with 7 different tones of bells, ringing each in turn to bring the appropriate hubby running!
            (I seriously wouldn’t want to try 7 wives. I spend enough time covering my butt so the one doesn’t slaughter me!)

  6. Mr. Huntsman Sr., descended from Mormon pioneers, is revered for the hundreds of millions of dollars he has given to charity.
    Hmm polygamists. And maybe some inbreeding.

    If the GOP were smart, this guy is the most “electable.” Since they’re controlled by the the fringes of their party, he’s pretty much “I have the money to go toe to toe with my fellow Mormon competition” candidate.

    • i agree, little spinny. i think huntsman is the only one that wouldn’t scare the hell out of dems. i mean that in the sense that, if he were to be elected, dems wouldn’t freak out like they would if someone like gov. little ricky goodhair or another teabagger won.