Utah’s business and political elite gave former Gov. Mike Leavitt one massive hug Thursday evening, honoring him as "A Giant In Our City" in a jovial gala at the Grand America Hotel.
Mitt Romney, the former 2012 Republican presidential nominee, was among those who feted Leavitt. The two became close friends after Leavitt hired Romney to organize the 2002 Winter Olympics and Leavitt was a senior adviser on Romney’s presidential campaign.
"Mike Leavitt has stood up whenever the country or the state or his community has needed him," Romney, who previously received the same honor, told The Salt Lake Tribune. "He is the quintessential volunteer when it comes to helping people in need."
Leavitt served three terms as Utah’s governor before President George W. Bush appointed him the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and later secretary of Health and Human Services. At the end of the Bush administration, Leavitt created his own consultant group focused on health care, most recently assisting states and companies in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
Before Thursday’s dinner, Leavitt said the award, presented by the Salt Lake Chamber, "is a great honor."
"I’ve always viewed myself as a business person first and a person who then did public service for a time," Leavitt said. "So to be recognized in a business category is a nice honor and one that I appreciate very much."
Among those in attendance Thursday night were executives from some of the state’s largest corporations, university leaders, apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and a number of political leaders.
Recently, Leavitt helped lead the Count My Vote effort that resulted in a compromise with the state Legislature to change Utah’s election system, creating an alternative path for candidates to reach a primary election. In part because of that effort, Leavitt’s name has surfaced as a possible Senate candidate.
"You never say never ... but don’t hold your breath," Leavitt said of a future run for office. "Politics is dependent upon a steady supply of people who don’t know what they are getting into. And both Mitt and I do."
That said, Leavitt, who was a big player in Romney’s 2012 presidential run, is prepared to assist in another national campaign.
"If Mitt Romney concluded that he was interested in taking another run, I would be there with him as I know thousand and thousands of others would as well."
The event coincided with the news that current HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is leaving her post, which Leavitt noted came following "a rugged time" during the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. He said he couldn’t call her decision to resign a surprise and noted that it is rare for Cabinet secretaries to stay throughout a president’s full time in office.
A reporter for ABC4 asked the former governor if he wanted his old job back. Leavitt quickly said no, then his wife Jackie jumped in. "Life is good."
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