Jon Huntsman Biography

Diplomat, Governor (1960–)
Jon Huntsman, former governor of Utah and U.S. Ambassador to China became a candidate for the Republican Party nomination for President in 2012.


Jon Huntsman, former governor of Utah (2005-2009) won re-election in 2008 with 78 percent of the vote. Fluent in Mandarin Chinese, he became the U.S. Ambassador to China in 2009, where he defied tradition by riding his motorcycle in lieu of an escort. He resigned the ambassadorship in 2011 in order to seek nomination of the Republican Party for President of the United States for the 2012 election.

Early Life

Jon Huntsman was born on March 26, 1960, in Palo Alto, California, the eldest of nine siblings. Huntsman's early years were spent with his father, Jon Huntsman, Sr., making sales calls. In 1970, John Sr. formed the Huntsman Container Company and moved his family to Maryland to join the Nixon Administration. At the age of 10, Jon, Jr. started a successful lawn mowing business. The family left Washington in 1971, when Huntsman, Sr. became CEO of the Huntsman Container Corporation, famous for creating the "clamshell" container for the McDonald's Big Mac, eventually transforming them into a multi-billion dollar company.

At age 15, while attending Highland High School in Salt Lake City, Huntsman became an Eagle Scout. He then dropped out of high school to pursue a musical career as a keyboard player in the rock band Wizard. He later obtained a G.E.D and was admitted to the University of Utah, serving as a Mormon missionary in Taiwan for two years. Huntsman transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, where he graduated with a degree in international politics. In 1983, he married a former high school friend, Mary Kaye Cooper. The couple met in Washington and travelled back to Utah together. Jon and Mary Kaye eventually had seven children, including two adopted children—one from China and one from India.

Political Career

In the late 1980s, Huntsman moved to Taiwan to serve as V.P. for Huntsman Pacific Chemical, helping the company expand globally. After serving as vice chairman of the Huntsman Corporation, he was appointed deputy U.S. Trade representative and U.S Trade ambassador by George W. Bush. His busy schedule resulted in traveling over 40 weeks a year. In 2004, he and his family returned to Utah, where he successfully ran to become the 16th Governor of Utah. His popular policies won him reelection in 2008 with over 78 percent of the state-wide vote.

In 2009, Huntsman was unanimously confirmed as the Ambassador to China, resigning the Governorship of Utah to accept the post. He impressed his hosts with his immense knowledge of their culture; fluency in Mandarin; and by his riding a bicycle to meetings, rather than travelling by motorcade. In 2011, Huntsman resigned his post in order to return to the United States with his family to purse the nomination of the Republican Party for President of the United States.

2012 GOP Race

Initially, Huntsman looked like a promising candidate with his foreign policy experience, moderate position on some social issues, and his fiscal conservatism. Time magazine even called him "The Potential Republican Presidential Candidate Democrats Most Fear." Huntsman, however, failed to gain much momentum in his bid for the Republican nomination. He wasn't able to distinguish himself from fellow moderate Mitt Romney, and couldn't attract the supporters from the religious right.

Shortly after a disappointing third-place finish in the 2012 New Hampshire Republican Primary, Huntsman resigned from the race. He chastised his fellow candidates, and the race itself, for the personal attacks and negative campaigning. "At its core, the Republican Party is a party of ideas, but the current toxic form of our political discourse does not help our cause."

While he endorsed Mitt Romney for president, Huntsman has continued to critize his party. He has refused to attend the 2012 Republican Convention, telling the Salt Lake City Tribune that he will not go this or any future party convention "until the party focuses on a bigger, bolder, more confident future for the United States—a future based on problem solving, inclusiveness, and a willingness to address the trust deficit, which is every bit as corrosive as our fiscal and economic deficits."

Fact Check

We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!