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Huntsman dislikes Bush idea on disasters

He, other governors don't want feds controlling state troops

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. is one of a growing list of governors angry with President Bush's suggestion that disaster response ought to be left to the active military.

The Utah governor and his counterparts in Washington, Mississippi, Michigan, Arkansas, West Virginia, Delaware and Alabama are upset that the Bush administration is even considering overstepping state control of National Guard units. Bush first hinted in September the idea that the active military take the lead in disaster response efforts. Since then, governors and some in Congress and the Pentagon have been lukewarm to the idea.

One of the primary missions of the National Guard is to provide disaster response within U.S. borders. Soldiers from the Utah National Guard have assisted in relief efforts both locally and nationally. Huntsman wants to see that primary mission maintained.

"In all cases, disaster response is best left to those duly elected officials closest to the problem," Huntsman said.

Huntsman said he looks forward to telling Adm. Timothy J. Keating his feelings about the issue at the Western Governors Association meeting in Phoenix next week. Keating, commander at U.S. Northern Command, has said he supports the Bush administration's idea to put the Defense Department in charge of disaster response instead of the National Guard.

Active military and National Guard units worked hand-in-hand during the response to both Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Utah deployed approximately 50 servicemen to assist in the Katrina cleanup, and another 500 or so helped with Hurricane Rita's aftermath, said Maj. Hank McIntire, Utah National Guard spokesman.

Keating has said he spoke with Bush about training an active-duty military force to help the National Guard respond to disasters but stressed it would only be to aid state leaders. Northern Command spokesman Lt. Col. John Cornelio said military commanders are not trying to take authority from the governors.

Some have criticized Bush for not putting troops on the ground earlier during the Hurricane Katrina response. Since then, Bush has spoken out several times about the issue and said he wants to improve the federal response to these "catastrophic" events.

"I want there to be a robust discussion about the best way for the federal government, in certain extreme circumstances, to be able to rally assets for the good of the people," Bush told reporters Sept. 26.

Contributing: Associated Press.