Who is Mike Leavitt, the man leading Romney's transition team?

Alden Pellett/AP

Even as a presidential campaign fights to win the election, it has to be preparing for what comes after. For any candidate who's not an incumbent, that means selecting a transition chair who quietly sets in motion a plan for an administration, including choosing who might fill top posts if the candidate wins.

Mike Leavitt is in the spotlight now after Politico reported that the former Cabinet member in the George W. Bush administration has been tapped to lead the transition. But his backing for part of President Obama's health care law has upset conservatives, and his past support for cap-and-trade environmental policies could come back to haunt him. So who is the quietly powerful Leavitt, why was he chosen, and why is he controversial?
 
*He's a lot like Romney. A member of a prominent Mormon family; the son of a politician; a technocratic Republican governor with a special interest in health care; a successful businessman; a cool-headed efficiency evangelist. Sure, that could be Mitt Romney, but it's also Mike Leavitt. The two men became friends when Leavitt, then governor of Utah, helped install Romney as head of the troubled Salt Lake City Olympic Games. His style as governor was much like Romney's as leader of Massachusetts: Politico describes Leavitt as "a hands-on executive who's driven more by data than by ideology, a high-energy if vanilla technocrat who reads heavily in his spare time." For Romney, who keeps a small core of like-minded, long-time lieutenants close to him, Leavitt is a perfect adviser. 
 
*He has a long resume in Republican circles. Unlike Romney, who likes to boast that he's not a career politician, Leavitt has never been far from politics. He got his start running his father's unsuccessful bid for Utah governor. He continued to work on campaigns throughout the ensuing decades. He served an almost unprecedented three terms as Utah governor and was generally very popular. After his third term, he moved on to the Bush administration, where he replaced Christine Todd Whitman after her tumultuous term as EPA administrator, then took over the Health and Human Services Department for the entirety of the second Bush administration.
 
*He's known as a moderate. Like Romney, Leavitt has often been described as a moderate -- a potential liability for the candidate, who has wrapped up the GOP nomination but is still seeking to convince conservatives he's one of them. For example, as EPA administrator, Leavitt was a prominent advocate of cap-and-trade rules for cutting carbon emissions. Back then, that position was attacked by environmentalists as far too lenient. Since then, however, the cap-and-trade idea has become a serious taboo in the GOP. Responding to the "moderate" label, Leavitt told Politico, "That's probably by Utah standards. I'm clearly center-right." 
 
*He has been a prominent backer of one element of the health care law. Even as "Obamacare" has become the GOP's bete noire, Leavitt has vocally backed one provision of the law: state-level health-insurance exchanges. As part of the law's expansion of insurance, these exchanges allow citizens to shop for insurance from private companies, and if they qualify they can use federal subsidies to purchase coverage. Insurance companies accepted various strictures -- most notably, the ban on rejecting applicants with pre-existing conditions -- in return for the individual mandate, which broadens the pool of insurance buyers. A Leavitt aid told Politico, "We believe that the exchanges are the solution to small-business insurance market and that's gotten us sideways with some conservatives." But Leavitt also has a major financial interest: His health-care consultancy has won contracts from many states to help set up the exchanges, which must be in place by 2014 (unless the law is struck down by the Supreme Court).
 
That has conservatives hopping mad. Prominent conservative pundit Erick Erickson wrote on Monday, "This should shake every conservative's confidence in Team Romney to really understand just how badly we want Obamacare fully repealed and calls into question the conservative bona fides of those who would staff a Romney White House when Obamacare pimps staff the campaign." Several other conservative groups told Talking Points Memo that they were very concerned about Leavitt's selection for the same reason.
 
*He could play a powerful role in shaping a Romney administration. Why do they care so much? Well, Leavitt would have an important voice in setting both the personnel for the new administration and setting its agenda. He'd help Romney choose who would fill top spots in the Cabinet. President Obama selected John Podesta, a former White House chief of staff under Bill Clinton, to lead his transition; his eventual team included many veterans of the Clinton administration. It's also rumored that Leavitt might have his eye on a top job in a Romney White House, perhaps as chief of staff. So while a Leavitt-led transition wouldn't guarantee a moderate Romney administration, it's not unrealistic to expect his philosophy would be reflected in the result.
Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.