Huntsman to join bipartisan group No Labels
Compromise • Group, called “No Labels,” will urge politicians to focus on solutions.
Published: November 28, 2012 05:50PM
Updated: March 6, 2013 11:34PM
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Ashley Detrick | Tribune file photo Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman

Washington • Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is signing on with a new movement to attempt to bridge the partisan divide that has left Washington in gridlock, charging that government leaders should be more focused on problem-solving, not point-scoring.

“Too many people in Washington believe that leading consists of imposing their will on the opposition. It is true of both parties,” Huntsman, a Republican, said during a conference call organized by the group No Labels. “This all or nothing leadership is an attitude that may work on military battlefields or in competitive business markets ... but it’s a recipe for dysfunction in democratic politics.”

Huntsman is expected to sign on as a co-chairman of No Labels, a Washington nonprofit that aims to bring Republicans, Democrats and independents together to solve pressing issues.

The one-time presidential candidate, who now sits on several corporate boards, said the nation is headed for a serious crisis if outside groups are able to keep up the polarization in Washington, D.C., and he plans to work with the No Labels group and members of Congress to help push the two sides back to the negotiating table.

“Compromise has got to be seen as more than a treasonous thing,” Huntsman said on the call with some 700 supporters of the group.

No Labels was founded by Democratic fundraiser Nancy Jacobsen, Republican strategist Mark McKinnon and former U.S. Comptroller David Walker.

The new gig for Huntsman dovetails with his pitch he made while running for the Republican nomination that throwing out red meat to voters doesn’t solve anything. That message didn’t resonate with Republican primary voters, and he withdrew after a third-place showing in New Hampshire.

University of Utah political scientist Matthew Burbank said that Huntsman has earned credibility with his career in the government and private sector, and he can make some good points on compromising.

“It kind of fits his take on politics well,” Burbank said. “The problem is, it’s unlikely to go anywhere. ... It’s easy to say, ‘Let’s compromise.’ It’s hard to argue against that. The problem is always what are we compromising.”

No Labels has said it’s not launching a new third party and is trying to use its influence to groom a grassroots base that will push members of Congress to work together. The group is attempting to sign on federal lawmakers who agree with the No Labels plea and plans to unveil a list in January in New York City.

Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat who refused to endorse President Barack Obama during the election, is expected to be the other co-chair of the No Labels group.

During Tuesday’s call, Huntsman said he agreed with some proposals that would encourage lawmakers to compromise, including the idea that members of Congress would forfeit their pay if they don’t pass a budget.

Huntsman added on the call that a vacuum of real leadership during the past few years has left politicians more worried about blaming the other party than sitting down with them.

“There’s no conceivable path forward on the debt [crisis] unless Republicans and Democrats reach across the aisle,” Huntsman said.

tburr@sltrib.com