Sunday No Day of Rest for Huntsman

Gov. Jon Huntsman talks with Dover resident Dr. Paul Butler after a Sunday town hall meeting.

            Granite staters digging out from the freak Hallow’s Eve snowstorm weren’t the only ones working hard on Sunday. Jon Huntsman conducted town hall meetings in Laconia, Dover, and Hampton, and also made stops at UNH and in Newmarket along the way.

            In Dover, Huntsman spoke to about 30 voters – and 13 members of the media – at the McConnell Center. Dressed casually in a jean jacket, checkered shirt, and boots (not wingtips) appropriate for slushy conditions, Huntsman sped through a 20 minute rendition of his stump speech focused on economic policy, then spent twice as much time answering ten questions from the audience. He was introduced by UNH student and two-term state Rep. Jeff St. Cyr of Alton, who has endorsed Huntsman.

            Huntsman made no mention of any of his rivals for the GOP presidential nomination, save one reference to fellow former governor, Gary Johnson, while responding to a question on drug policy. In pitching his economic plan, Huntsman made no effort to contrast his plan with those put out by other candidates. Rather, he let his plan stand on its merits and eschewed the red meat most other candidates serve at their events.

            “I’m not going to pander. I’m not going to stand here and take cheap shots at people,” Huntsman said at one point. During Q&A, Huntsman stated, “I hate political bromide.” Later, answering a question from David Martin of Dover about EPA regulations, Huntsman said “I’m not an extremist either way” on the question of balancing environmental protection and economic growth. While answering another question, Huntsman said, “You can’t just stay at extreme ends and bark at each other.”

            Maybe so, but the question remains whether Huntsman’s commitment to civility allows him to distinguish his positions from those of other candidates in a way that is clear to voters and gets Huntsman attention.

            During his stump speech, Huntsman called the Obama Administration’s jobs bill “a temporary elixir, a narcotic.” Of Huntsman’s tax reform plan, which eliminates all loopholes and deductions, Huntsman said, “I don’t care if it’s politically risky.”

            During Q&A, Huntsman gave a long, multi-faceted, and unfocused answer to an open-ended question on health care. He handled a question about reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act – passed in 1932, repealed in 1999 – by demonstrating knowledge of the banking law the expanded the power of the Federal Reserve and created the FDIC.

            The former ambassador to China, as one might expect, was especially strong fielding a couple questions about China. Asked about China’s territorial ambitions, Huntsman explained that to succeed in Chinese politics, one has to be hard-core about regaining all lands considered part of China before the pre-revolutionary republican period. This gains one support among party officials and the military needed to advance.

            Asked about Fannie and Freddie, Huntsman said he’d prefer them to be more like traditional banks adding, “We can’t have an implied guarantee that we’ll bail them out” like big banks were.

            A teacher observed. “You’re not real prominent in the press. Why do you get sidelined?” Huntsman tried to demur when another attendee said, “The easy answer is, you’re not crazy.” Huntsman invited the questioner to take it up with the media directly, gesturing to a large group of journalists covering the town hall meeting.

            Asked by an older voter whether it would be better to legalize and tax drugs, Huntsman gave a straight no, supporting a “Columbia Plus” approach of coordinated efforts between US and Mexican military and law enforcement. Huntsman added that he had a sister who had died from addiction.

Gov. Huntsman does a media avail after his Dover town hall.

            Speaking briefly to reporters after the event, and using language Huntsman had avoided in the town hall meeting, Huntsman referred to Mitt Romney as “a well-lubricated weathervane.” Addressing his modest standing in the polls, Huntsman said he’d recently had dinner with former two-time presidential candidate Lamar Alexander, who told him that Alexander had been at 3 percent a month before he placed third in the 1996 presidential primary.

 fergus@ferguscullen.com, October 30, 2011

Author: Fergus Cullen

Fergus Cullen is a former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party (2007-2008) and an editorial page columnist for the New Hampshire Union Leader.

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