Politics & Policy

Regrets of a $75,000 Huntsman Donor

Patrick Byrne, the CEO of Overstock.com and a huge proponent of school vouchers, donated $75,000 to Jon Huntsman’s 2004 gubernatorial campaign. In a Politico op-ed today, he details his disappointment with Huntsman:

In mid-2004, John Huntsman, who was running for Utah governor, sat in my Salt Lake City living room and asked about my political beliefs. I only care about one state-level issue, I told him: school choice.

“Vouchers are my main issue, too!” Huntsman replied. “Vouchers are the reason I am running for governor.” He waxed enthusiastically, “I want to go down in history as the voucher governor.” (These are direct quotes, to which I have two witnesses.)

In 2007, Huntsman signed school voucher legislation. (He was the first governor to sign a statewide school voucher bill.) The teacher unions and public school advocates fought back hard, and public opinion was decidedly mixed. In November of 2007, voters would reject school vouchers in a referendum. During those months of public debate over the voucher program, between its passage and the referendum, Huntsman made no public statements in support of vouchers. 

Byrne, who donated about $3 million to pro-voucher efforts during those months, was outraged by Huntsman’s silence:

 

Huntsman and I received invitations to debate teachers’ union officials and representatives across the state. I accepted. But Huntsman not only did not appear, he refused to make any public comment.

I sent word, asking, “I thought that this was your ‘main issue’, and ‘the reason you ran for governor’?” Huntsman replied with only a text: “Campaigning for vouchers is outside my comfort zone.”

Katrina Trinko — Katrina Trinko is a political reporter for National Review. Trinko is also a member of USA TODAY’S Board of Contributors, and her work has been published in various media outlets ...

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