Gubernatorial candidate Jon Huntsman Jr. announced Friday that Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi will be his running mate in the 2020 race.
“When I first met her, I already knew she’d make a great leader for this great state of ours. She’s already been an historic figure and a great mayor of Provo,” Huntsman said in a video posted on Twitter.
Kaufusi is in the third year of her first term of office and is the first woman mayor of Provo. During her time in office, she has added to her list of accomplishments the growth of a new terminal at the Provo Municipal Airport, the voter bond approval for a new city hall that will be completed in 2022, the completion of the UVX route with the Utah Transit Authority, and the reorganization of internal departments to streamline services, among others.
Huntsman served as Utah governor from 2005 to 2009 and as United States Ambassador to Russia until last October.
In an interview, Kaufusi said there have “been a lot of tears” among her staff as she told them about her run for Lt. Governor.
“Trust and loyalty (are) huge to me, and they know it,” Kaufusi said.
Kaufusi said she will remain focused on her mayoral duties as she moves through the campaign.
“You’ll still see me,” she said. “I’m the mayor, for Pete’s sake.”
There was “instant chemistry and a very deep bonding” between Kaufusi and Huntsman when they started working with one another, Huntsman said in an interview.
“She has the ability to inspire like no other politician I’ve seen in the state,” said Huntsman. “I think she’s going to bring a lot of people off the sidelines.”
While Huntsman said he is proud of what he accomplished in his previous stint as Utah’s governor, he added that there are still improvements to be made in the state, including addressing air quality and transportation needs.
“There isn’t a category that I care about that is complete,” he said. “But that is the nature of politics and public service.”
Kaufusi said planning for the state’s projected rapid growth and working to improve air quality are two areas on which she is focused.
“What it comes down to, for us, is getting prepared and being ready for the growth,” she said.
Huntsman’s other areas of focus during his campaign for governor include addressing mental health and suicide in the state and providing economic and educational opportunities for rural communities.
“We simply cannot be satisfied with one level of economic prosperity along the Wasatch (F)ront and another for the families living in Utah’s rural areas,” the website says.
In Provo, the Kaufusi name is relatively well known. Her husband Steve, and sons Bronson and Corbin are playing, or have played, in the National Football League, along with several families members with a history in Brigham Young University football. Steve Kaufusi was a football coach at BYU until Michelle Kaufusi became mayor.
“It’s after a lot of soul searching that I’ve decided to accept an invitation to run for Lieutenant Governor of Utah,” Kaufusi said. “Serving as your mayor has been my favorite job ever, and I can’t imagine I’ll ever enjoy another position more.”
Kaufusi added, “Is this an announcement of my resignation? No. My heart is here in Provo, and I am focused on moving ahead with the important projects we are working on here in Utah’s greatest city. In less than five months, we should know the primary election results, and that will tell us a lot. And even if I should be elected to statewide office, my plan would be to continue to serve as mayor until it’s time for a transition. At that point (next January), I would have already entered my fourth year of mayoral service.”
A Provo native, Kaufusi graduated Provo High School with the class of 1985. She has since served as the president of the Provo City School District Board of Education prior to running for mayor.
Kaufusi took the place of former Mayor John Curtis, who won the 3rd Congressional District special election filling the vacancy left by former U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz.