Republican Jon Huntsman Jr., the former U.S. ambassador to China, has a political profile that sets him apart from the pack of possible 2012 GOP presidential candidates. For starters, he starred in a 2004 advertisement with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger lobbying for congressional action on climate change.
Huntsman, a former Utah governor, also boasts solid roots in California. He was born in Palo Alto, where his grandfather was mayor and a small businessman, and he was raised until age 11 in Los Angeles.
“I’m a true native of the Bay Area,” Huntsman said Tuesday in San Francisco, as he raced between meetings with top fundraisers and GOP supporters at the start of a three-day California political swing, his first outside the East Coast. “I’m more of a native than you guys.”
In an interview with The Chronicle Tuesday, Huntsman said he doesn’t regret the TV spot for the Environmental Defense Fund, in which he starred with fellow Republican Schwarzenegger and Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat.
“Now’s the time for Congress to act in capping greenhouse gas pollution,” Huntsman said in the ad, wearing a bomber jacket and standing at the ocean’s edge before a gauzy sunset.
‘A greener future’
In 2004, “we were at the front end of a constituency, and companies and issue groups that wanted this country to move toward a greener future,” Huntsman said. But today, he said, the costs associated with climate change regulations are “very steep” and “we need to make sure first and foremost we get back on our feet economically.”
Huntsman also talked about his past support of Utah’s Amendment 3, which was approved by that state’s voters in 2004 and banned same-sex marriage and civil unions, and his 2009 shift to support of civil unions. It was a move that Utah insiders and fellow Mormons said was a shock to the conservative base in that state.
“Amendment 3 was about defining traditional marriage, which I support,” Huntsman said. While he opposes same-sex marriage, he said, “We don’t do an adequate job when it comes to an equality perspective – primarily in the area of reciprocal beneficiary rights, hospital visits, insurance.
“I spoke out in favor of that equality,” said Huntsman. “If I get into this race, (some) will support me on that.”
Huntsman, described by Time Magazine as the potential Republican 2012 presidential candidate “Democrats fear most,” plans stops in Los Angeles today and Orange County Thursday. His California trip comes on the heels of a New Hampshire swing that created major media buzz about his exploratory presidential campaign.
Knows San Francisco well
Huntsman looked energized in San Francisco Tuesday, a city the former ambassador said he knows well. (He said he’s taken his kids – he has seven, including two daughters adopted in Asia – through “every alley” of Chinatown.)
While in the city Tuesday, Huntsman met with fundraising “bundlers” and key GOP insiders, including Howard Leach, the former ambassador to France and one of the nation’s most generous GOP donors.
“People are looking for leadership in the country … and he was very smart, very articulate,” said Leach, who hasn’t committed to a 2012 candidate but hosted a luncheon Tuesday of about 40 Republican insiders eager to meet with Huntsman. “We were all very favorably impressed,” he added, with Huntsman’s knowledge of foreign affairs and his record of executive management in Utah.
Among other issues Huntsman addressed Tuesday:
On cap and trade, which he once supported, he said: “No one is thinking about it anymore. … The point is, the world is changing quickly – and as it changes there is new thinking being infused into this whole discussion; and we should stay tuned.”
On whether he supports a “path to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants, he said: “I don’t think anyone is going to pay attention to the larger mix, which is how you process the 11 or 12 million who are here illegally, until such time as you secure the border. … That’s why you’ve got to get the governors” on the border to participate in the debate.
Must set standards
“Then we have to come up with a system that allows us to process people based upon the reality of their circumstances,” he said, adding: “Many people have come from different locations, with varying degrees of education, and with varying degrees of English. So there should be certain standards set in terms of what those requirements are.”
— On “sanctuary cities” such as San Francisco, which do not report illegal immigrants without criminal records to federal authorities: “That’s best left up to local officials to determine.”
— On whether he’s a “moderate” Republican: “Sometimes people just throw that tag around and say, if you’re willing to sit down with people and solve problems – and bring all people together at the table – they call you ‘moderate,’ whether your record would suggest that or not. I think I’m a conservative problem-solver.”
Won’t self-fund campaign
Millionaire Huntsman doesn’t intend to self-fund his campaign, although he may contribute seed money at the start, insiders say.
His trip to California, he said, was to find out whether he can “finance a campaign by reaching out to a very broad network” and whether his campaign can “do the grassroots thing.”
After New Hampshire and now San Francisco, Huntsman said Tuesday, “we feel pretty good.”
Chronicle staff writer Natalie Orenstein contributed to this report.
Jon Huntsman, 51
Birthplace: Palo Alto
Education: B.A. in international politics, University of Pennsylvania
Family: Married to Mary Kaye Cooper. Has seven children
Wealth: Son of billionaire Jon Huntsman, whose Huntsman Corp. is a chemical company
Career: Ambassador to China (2009-11) and Singapore (1992-93); Utah governor, 2005-09
Source: San Francisco Gate