WASHINGTON — Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman resigned Tuesday to become U.S. ambassador to China, leaving Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert in control of the state.
Immediately after resigning Tuesday, Huntsman took the oath to become ambassador.
Herbert also assumed the duties of governor following Huntsman's resignation and was sworn in as Utah's 17th governor Tuesday afternoon.
Huntsman is a moderate Republican who was the most popular governor in state history, winning re-election in November with a record 77 percent of the vote.
Huntsman led efforts to normalize the state's notoriously quirky liquor laws, revamped the state's tax code and fought to keep foreign nuclear waste out of the state while in office.
Earlier this year, Huntsman grabbed nationwide attention for saying he supported civil unions and that the national Republican Party needs to be more inclusive if it wants to come back from widespread losses and move beyond the borders of the Rocky Mountain west and the South.
Before being tapped by President Barack Obama as an ambassador, Huntsman had been considering seeking the Republican Party's presidential nomination in 2012.
Human rights, green house gas issues
For Huntsman, though, the offer of the ambassador job was one he said he couldn't refuse. Huntsman, who counts an adopted daughter from China among his seven children, has long been interested in Asia.
He's fluent in Mandarin Chinese, has led trade missions to China and served a mission for the Mormon church in Taiwan.
Huntsman is also a former ambassador to Singapore.
In testimony last month, Huntsman promised to pursue human rights issues and to encourage China to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
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While governor of Utah, Huntsman irked many within his own party for signing a regional cap-and-trade agreement on greenhouse gas emissions. In part to reduce energy consumption, Huntsman also made Utah the first state in the country to switch most of its executive branch employees to a four-day work week.
The need to limit global warming is one of the most striking differences between Huntsman and Herbert.
Differences between governors
Herbert has openly questioned whether global warming exists, saying science on the issue is inconclusive.
Herbert also disagrees with Huntsman on the issue of civil unions. However, it's unknown whether Herbert would support granting gay couples limited legal rights, such as the right to sue in the event of a wrongful death.
State Sen. Greg Bell, R-Fruit Heights, who is Herbert's choice for lieutenant governor, sponsored a failed bill in 2005 that would have allowed unmarried adults to enter into legal contracts for property ownership and hospital visitation rights.
Bell is awaiting confirmation from the state Senate before being sworn in. That is expected to occur on Aug. 19.
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