By April Guilmet
When former Utah governor Jon Huntsman addressed this year's graduates during Southern New Hampshire University's commencement last spring, the irony that he was following in President Barack Obama's footsteps wasn't lost on him.
During a stop at the college's Salem campus Thursday afternoon, Huntsman's first since announcing his candidacy, the one-time U.S. ambassador to China and 2012 Republican presidential candidate told the crowd that the parallels between him and the current President likely end there.
"If Obama's campaign theme was "Hope,' I'd say my campaign theme would be "Solutions.'" Huntsman told the small crowd of locals, most of them college students, staff members and members of the Greater Salem Chamber of Commerce. "What we need is a candidate to go up against a President who has no record when it comes to job creation."
Huntsman noted during the time he served as Utah's governor, that state's unemployment rate dropped to 2.4 percent at one point.
In Salem, the father of seven went on to tackle such topics as the economy, the need for job creation, and the need for energy independence, current educational policy and what he described as "the need for hope for the next generation."
"What we're ready to pass down to the next generation is less productivity, less competitiveness," Huntsman said. "This is unacceptable. A lot of people right now feel that the American dream is increasingly beyond reach."
Alluding to his well-publicized love of motorcycles, Huntsman said, "We are stuck in neutral right now, and are unable to shift into first gear."
One priority, he said, would be to "expand the economy and restore jobs," vowing to instigate a balanced budget amendment, should be find himself in the Oval Office next year.
"Every corner of the government needs to be on the table," Huntsman continued, citing the need for tax reform and a focus on natural gas from American sources as an alternative to Saudi crude oil.
On the topic of national security, the former ambassador didn't mince words. "I look at Afghanistan, we've been there for 10 years. It's time for us to come home," Huntsman said. "Only Afghanistan can save Afghanistan: America has to save America."
Referring to the best-selling book "On The Beach," Salem/Windham state representative Bob Elliot sought Huntsman's thoughts on the likeliness of a nuclear dispute between China and Russia.
"(China) is spending less on defense than on security right now," Huntsman replied. "And in terms of Russia, this is a relationship that's been managed."
He noted, however, the need for the U.S. to have "a deep, strategic dialogue with China that serves our interest."
Salem resident Jane Lang asked Huntsman his thoughts on former President George W. Bush's tax cuts.
"I think they should stay in effect," Huntsman answered. "But broader tax reform in this country is needed to become really effective."
"When you become President, what departments are you looking to cut?" Salem resident Bob Gibbs asked.
One area that could stand for such cuts, Huntsman replied, is the Department of Education.
"I think education should be handled at a local level," he said. "Let the states determine their population and how to best serve it."
Laconia teacher Bernie Campbell, who lives in Pelham, said he had some concerns about No Child Left Behind, particularly the practice of standardized testing.
"I don't like NCLB and I think it should be repealed," Huntsman said. "Let's instead focus on local administrators and the parents. They all want their schools to succeed and they don't need Washington."