Utah enters a new era with the help of Carmen Rasmussen.---
Zai jian, Gov. Huntsman. The Senate has confirmed Huntsman as the ambassador to China, a drawn-out process with zero suspense. It is almost unanimously agreed, even among the Chinese, that Huntsman will do well as the ambassador. Huntsman will officially resign Tuesday, the same day that almost Gov. Gary Herbert will be inaugurated in a ceremony featuring Carmen Rasmussen, Herbert's daughter-in-law and former almost American Idol.
What is not so clear is how well Utah will do with Huntsman. His replacement is an acclaimed conservative whose skepticism of global warming and opposition to civil unions for gay couples is well-documented. His primary accomplishment as Lt. Gov. was bringing the state's elections office into the digital world, a job he only semi-accomplished because the website is essentially an electronic version of a physical government office. It's complicated, seldom works right, fails at inopportune moments (say, election night), and is completely impractical for the common citizen with limited time and patience to use.
However, judging Herbert for his work as second-in-command is unfair, since he was tasked with primarily administrative duties. When he can actually flex his political muscle, especially with an equally conservative Legislature, it may be frightening to anyone who does not regularly listen to Glenn Beck and his ilk.
While I don't expect any steps backward on hot-button issues such as liquor laws, I also don't expect any important steps forward (in other words, no heavy/real beer on taps in this state). Herbert seems to lack the worldly view that Huntsman had, a view which often drove Huntsman's support of issues not popular with Utah Republicans.
The biggest thing may actually be what does not happen with Herbert, especially on gay rights. Last year, Common Ground bills got hearings in large part because Huntsman pushed for them. In the next session, those bills will either get stuck in solitary confinement, as the House initially did this year, or sent to a committee full of extreme conservatives for a horse-whipping, which is what the Senate did this year. And despite his future Lt. Gov. Greg Bell's stance on domestic partnership registries, a legislative push to place restrictions on those that specifically target gay couples would not be surpriseing.
Then again, who knows? Herbert may surprise everyone, just as Huntsman surprised people. Just don't count on it.