Jon Huntsman Jr. took the "bittersweet" step of surrendering the Utah governor's office Tuesday to become U.S. ambassador to China.
In a ceremony attended by about 100 people in the State Capitol's Gold Room, Huntsman signed the resignation letter that he called a "surrender document" at 11:40 a.m. He then pledged to uphold the U.S. Constitution as 3rd District Judge Michele Christiansen, the governor's former legal counsel, swore him in as ambassador.
He thanked his administration and other state officials for having him as part of their team, but reserved special thanks for his father, chemical company founder and cancer-cure crusader Jon Huntsman, for his counsel through the years.
"Everybody needs a best friend, and my dad's my best friend," he said.
After the ceremony, the ambassador said he looks ahead to his new international assignment but will miss serving Utahns.
"We're leaving behind what I consider the best job in the world," he said.
Former Govs. Norm Bangerter, Mike Leavitt and Olene Walker attended the ceremony, along with members of Utah's congressional delegation. Leavitt, the last to resign the office when he joined President George W. Bush's administration as Environmental Protection Agency administrator, said a resigning governor feels a "sense of anxiety, [because] what you're leaving is dear."
"I loved being governor," he said. "Every day of it. Passages and transitions are difficult at any stage of life."
Jon Huntsman Sr.'s eyes welled with tears before the ceremony. He declined comment, other than to acknowledge his pride.
"My heart is full," he said.
Immediately after Huntsman's resignation, he joined his lieutenant governor, incoming Gov. Gary Herbert, for his inauguration just outside the Gold Room doors in the Capitol rotunda. Herbert will become Utah's 17th governor, and has said he will run in a special election next year to determine the office holder until the next regular election in 2012.
Huntsman previously served as ambassador to Singapore, and as deputy U.S. trade representative, in the administration of President George H.W. Bush. He was elected governor of Utah in 2004, and re-elected last year before President Barack Obama reached across party lines to choose a Republican for the Beijing assignment.
The ambassador assumes the post vacated by Clark Randt, a former partner in a Hong Kong law firm and a commerce attaché to China in the Reagan administration. Randt was ambassador to China throughout George W. Bush's presidency.
The Utah Republican Party released a statement saying Herbert understands and knows the state's citizens well, and expressing confidence in his leadership abilities to face challenges to come.
The GOP also lauded Huntsman and his family for their service, saying he "guided our state with vision, eloquence and class."