Huntsman objected to the portrayal, saying he is "anything but a traditional Republican," and citing his stance on climate change policies and his endorsement of Sen. John McCain over Mitt Romney as examples of where he has bucked his party.
Huntsman, painting himself as a centrist, said the Legislature has repeatedly tried to strip his power because "I use it in ways that displeases them. I use it in ways that are good for the entire population of the state."
Springmeyer compared Huntsman to former Gov. Mike Leavitt, now head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as having an eye on a job in Washington and pressed him to commit to serving a full four years if he is re-elected.
"That's exactly what I intend to do," said Huntsman, his most definitive commitment thus far not to leave office for a spot in the McCain administration should he win the presidency.
Throughout the course of the first gubernatorial debate on KUER radio and KUED television, Huntsman staked out positions at odds with his party's doctrine: He asserted that the children of undocumented immigrants are entitled to an education, that the state should have limits on campaign contributions and that every individual should have access to health care.
"I think health care is a right, and I think we're not doing enough in providing that," he said.
In each case, Springmeyer agreed, as they reached consensus on the need to expand health care for uninsured children and a compassionate immigration system.
They also were in agreement that the state should establish a bipartisan commission to set legislative and congressional boundaries after the next Census. Utah's redistricting by the Republican Legislature after the 2000 Census was pointed to by many as an example of one of the most politicized redistricting efforts in the country.
Both candidates said the federal government needs to act quickly to provide liquidity to the economy and supported the federal bailout of financial firms that was voted down by House members Monday as the debate was in progress.
"Do we need a rescue package? Do we need the federal government to backstop to the tune of $700 billion? I don't think there's any way around it," Huntsman said. "Congress is going to have to step in and do something."
Springmeyer agreed, saying that he has some reservations but "on balance, I support it, too."
Huntsman said he opposes a proposal by EnergySolutions to import and bury radioactive waste from Italy and the state has joined a lawsuit against the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to block the waste.
"We'll fight it to the Supreme Court if we have to. It's just not going to come into our state," he said. "We've done everything I know how to do to keep that garbage out of our state."
Springmeyer also opposes the importation and says he has rejected campaign contributions from EnergySolutions.
Springmeyer criticized the governor for not vetoing a school voucher bill last year and a collection of education bills, many of them controversial, that the Legislature passed last session.
Huntsman said the idea of aid to low-income families appealed to him and he likes the concept of a "mobility scholarship," but if faced with the decision again he would consider a veto "because I respect the will of the people."