By John Toole
Jon Huntsman Jr. came calling in Salem yesterday with an economic-rescue plan built around tax and regulatory reform, balancing the federal budget and U.S. energy independence.
Business leaders pulled together by the Greater Salem Chamber of Commerce for a question-and-answer session with the former governor of Utah and ambassador to China liked what they heard.
"I like the fact he knows jobs are important," said Bonnie W. Breen, a vice president of commercial lending with Bank of New England in Windham. "Balancing the budget like the rest of us do in the world is something that needs to be done," Breen said. "We can't just continue to spend and spend and not have any responsibility for it."
Huntsman probably didn't close the deal yesterday with potential voters, but didn't hurt himself with his appearance before about two dozen people at the Salem campus for Southern New Hampshire University.
"He says the right things," said Richard Bennett, owner and president of Andover Corp. in Salem. "I'm still looking to see. I haven't made any choices yet. It's too early."
Bob Gibbs, who owns Kripalu Yoga Studio of Salem, said he would be looking over Huntsman's website now. "I liked everything he said," Gibbs said. "Nothing he said would make me not vote for him."
Huntsman, who has been polling in single digits in New Hampshire, recently had a campaign shakeup and is focusing all his attention on the primary here. "This campaign is moving in the right direction that will allow us to win New Hampshire," Huntsman told reporters afterward.
Huntsman delivered a message about a nation in trouble that can -- and should -- do better.
"It is absolutely unacceptable for any of us to live with the idea that it is OK to hand down the greatest nation that ever was to the next generation in the kind of condition it is today," Huntsman said.
"This country today is in a funk," Huntsman said. "We are dejected, we are dispirited, we are flat on our feet."
He blamed President Obama. "The president, on the most important issue of the day -- expanding the economy and creating jobs -- has failed us," Huntsman said.
Huntsman said he would concentrate on tax and regulatory reforms, along with gaining energy independence, to right the economy. "The role of government is getting out of our lives," Huntsman said.
He also would go after the debt and federal spending. "It is a cancer growing in this country," Huntsman said. "We need to radiate it, we need to cut it out, we need to excise it."
Huntsman also would change the way the country looks at foreign policy. "I think this country needs to be a little more skeptical about foreign entanglements," Huntsman said.
He cited Libya. "What are we doing?" Huntsman asked. He also said he would bring most troops out of Afghanistan, leaving only special forces and focusing on intelligence to combat terrorists. "Only Afghanistan can save Afghanistan," Huntsman said.
For business leaders in the room, a lot of it made sense.
"As far as (being) a corporate president, I'm looking to see tax reforms," Bennett said. "Going forward, we've got to have someone who has some kind of business skills in Washington."
For Gibbs, there are issues: "The economy. Immigration issues. Energy issues," Gibbs said.
"Stability. We've lost that," Breen said. Businesses she works with as a commercial lender aren't moving forward because they are uncertain, she said. "If it's not Mother Nature, it's our government."