The 2012 Candidates On The Arts: Jon Huntsman

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"The 2012 Candidates On The Arts: Jon Huntsman"

With arts and public broadcast issues percolating on the edge of the race for the 2012 presidential race, I thought it made sense to look at where the declared and prospective candidates for president have stood on arts issues throughout their careers. Their views on everything from arts education to support for local artistic traditions say a lot about how they value culture—but also about how they think about the role of government.

As U.S. Trade representative, governor of Utah, and ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman’s limited work on the arts prefigure some of the moves his colleagues in other states are making today, without some of the ideological edge — as with much of his record, it demonstrates why he’s an intriguing but almost totally improbable candidate for president in this cycle. But he’s also got a long, and interesting, record on copyright and intellectual property.

1993:As ambassador to Singapore under George H.W. Bush, Huntsman said IP rights would be an ongoing concern for the United States as it expanded trade with Asia.

1996: It was a concern that continued when he returned to the private sector. Huntsman was concerned about the risks to intellectual property of doing business with China, warning Plastics News that ”The Chinese hold technical seminars and invite anyone with new technology … pick your brain completely for what you know and implement it themselves.”

2001-2003:And when George W. Bush appointed him U.S. Trade representative, he oversaw a trade agreement with Vietnam that was meant, in part, to protect IP issues; met with Thai officials about the country’s IP enforcement, especially after American entertainment companies said they’d go after Thailand if the country didn’t step up its efforts; engaged with trade talks in Korea that involved IP issues at a time when Korea was one of the world’s largest exporters of counterfeit goods; and helped set up a trade council with West African nations that took on issues like IP protection.

2005: Much like governors ranging from Democrat Dannel Malloy in Connecticut to Republican Brian Sandoval in Nevada are trying to do or doing this year, Huntsman moved the Utah Arts Council from its status as a fully independent agency to part of the Department of Community and the Arts. While reorganizations can be a bad thing if they’re done essentially to eliminate government work on the arts, they can reduce administrative costs or improve opportunities to do joint agency projects. Huntsman justified his reorganization on the latter grounds, saying, according to U.S. States News, “Utah’s population is becoming more heterogeneous, reflecting a need for more attention to certain government services. It made sense to create a department that could focus on the unique ethnic communities in the state, as well as the services that strengthen the community.”

That year, the Scripps Howard News Service reported that Huntsman was part of a plan by Western governors to promote trade between their states — one of the concerns he cited was intellectual property enforcement in China. He also praised a company that moved to Utah to develop medical software, saying, “Without the development of the intellectual property here in our state and the nurturing that it took over those years, we wouldn’t have anything to offer.”

2006: Huntsman tapped a Democrat, former Salt Lake City Mayor Palmer DePaulis, to run the Department of Community and the Arts. DePaulis ended up working on everything from interagency oral history projects to streamlining digitization systems in the different divisions under his purview, and he’s since risen to be executive director of the Utah Department of Human Services.

2007: Utah stirred up the internet community when it passed and Huntsman signed a law preventing advertisers from placing ads based on keywords if those keywords were trademarked. The bill was meant to prevent businesses from competitors who might riff closely on their names and place advertising on those businesses websites, but companies like Google and Yahoo were seriously displeased.

2009: That attention to organization doesn’t mean Huntsman made the arts a priority, especially when faced with tough budget choices. Despite outreach efforts, Huntsman didn’t stop cuts that decimated the Utah Arts Council’s Folk Arts Program. The program is now hoping a new public-private partnership model will keep its work going.

2011: It’s still not entirely clear how Huntsman will handle questions about his service as President Obama’s ambassador to China, but in that role, Huntsman pressed China on intellectual property questions and lent vocal support to artists and writers who have been powerful advocates for reform in China, declaring that the administration “will continue to speak up in defense of social activists, like Liu Xiaobo, Chen Guangcheng and now Ai Weiwei, who challenge the Chinese government to serve the public in all cases and at all times.”

Huntsman may hope to distance himself from fellow Mormon and presidential rival Mitt Romney as much as possible. But they’ve both thought about where art fits in government’s work, and both have recognized a role for government in art. If I were to guess, I’d predict Romney might tack more towards an eliminationist position on government support for the arts, but that’s more in keeping with his general approach to campaigning than anything I know about his specific convictions.

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