As a candidate for the White House in 2008, the GOP choice in 2012 and in the most recent cycle against Donald Trump, Romney, now 70, has endlessly crossed the nation spreading a message that has ranged from moderate to conservative. He ultimately fell to President Barack Obama in 2012, but after a short period of media obscurity, Romney returned to the national stage in 2016.
And now, he wants to be the junior senator from Utah, replacing the retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch.
Over the course of two days, Friday and Saturday, March 2 and 3, Romney visited San Juan and Grand counties to campaign for a chance to serve in Washington, D.C.
President Trump, who Romney fiercely opposed during the 2016 primary season, has endorsed him in the race to replace Hatch. On Feb. 19, in a post on Twitter, the president said, “[Mitt Romney] has announced he is running for the Senate from the wonderful State of Utah. He will make a great senator and worthy successor to [Hatch], and has my full support and endorsement!”
Romney’s acceptance of the president’s Twitter endorsement is an about-face from statements he made during the 2016 campaign. In a tweet of his own on the same day Trump endorsed him, Romney stated, “Thank you Mr. President for the support. I hope that over the course of the campaign I also earn the support and endorsement of the people of Utah.”
That statement differs dramatically from a March 3, 2016 speech Romney gave to the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah. In that talk he said, “Let me put it plainly: If we Republicans choose Donald Trump as our nominee, the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished … Donald Trump tells us that he is very, very smart. I’m afraid that when it comes to foreign policy he is very, very not smart … I am far from the first to conclude that Donald Trump lacks the temperament of being president. After all, this is an individual who mocked a disabled reporter, who attributed a reporter’s questions to her menstrual cycle, who mocked a brilliant rival who happened to be a woman due to her appearance, who bragged about his marital affairs, and who laces his public speeches with vulgarity … Donald Trump says he admires Vladimir Putin, while has called George W. Bush a liar. That is a twisted example of evil trumping good.”
Meanwhile, the Utah Republican Party, led by moderate chairman Rob Anderson, passed a bylaw last week allowing them to expel any candidate that uses a signature-gathering process to qualify for the ballot — which is precisely the direction the Romney campaign has taken.
‘Experience’ and ‘relationships’ will count
Romney ran in the primary of the 2008 presidential election and earned the nomination in 2012, with vice presidential running mate Sen. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Romney said if he were elected — this time around as the junior senator from the Beehive State — he would be able to bring a measure of experience to the floor of Congress.
“Just because you don’t get made general doesn’t mean you stop fighting,” Romney said. “This is a critical time for our country. I think there are economic and geo-political issues that will affect the people of Utah … and I want the fight to go on for the people of Utah. I also believe that I am in a unique position to fill the large shoes of Senator Hatch. My relationship with the president and the White House, and my relationships in the Senate, will hopefully allow me to do more than a junior senator typically is able to do.”
During his visit, Romney made his case for ascendancy to the seat held by Senator Hatch since 1977, and said that the most important future conversation for the region is that of public lands.
“My orientation is that public land issues, as are most issues, are better solved at the local level than at the federal level,” Romney said. “With regard to public lands [in Utah], we need more local involvement in decisions ranging from national forests to monuments and parks, and I think there has been a Washington D.C.-down orientation toward the management of public lands … which has been frustrating and creates uncertainty for those that need to use public lands. That has to change … and it will change if we have local and state involvement.
“I think the Antiquities Act has been abused by former presidents … and I mean Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. The Endangered Species Act has been abused by some environmentalists in order to prevent the appropriate access and use of public lands, so both of those acts have to be reformed. Not repealed, but reformed to make them more consistent with the needs of local communities and states.”
He’ll be back
After Romney’s exclusive interview with The Times-Independent, he embarked on a tour of Arches and Canyonlands national parks. It was a tour, he said, that took him back in time to when, as a young boy, he took similar trips to parks across the nation with his father, former Michigan Gov. George Romney.
“I had occasion to visit the national parks time and time again, Romney said. “In part, being raised in the Midwest, you didn’t know the beauty of the mountains and the parks. So, my mom and dad made it a priority for us to come to the parks. For me, being able to get out and walk and hike, and typically go long distances to find places that are not congregated by others, give [my family] a sense of the magnificence of what God created for us.”
When asked if the citizens of Grand and San Juan counties would see return visits by Romney as a senator, he said “yes” and gave two reasons to The Times-Independent.
“There are some big draws to this area, one of them being the beauty of it, and the other being the warm reception I get from the people.” Romney said. “For instance, I spent some time on Friday with Bruce Adams, the San Juan County commissioner. He’s a gem of a person, and being able to come back to Moab and see old friends is something I look forward to doing.”
Romney also noted that a family tradition of traveling with his grandchildren may soon see him return to the region — though for more recreational than political reasons.
“We take the grandkids to see the national parks,” Romney said. “I have 24 grandkids. We wait until they reach the age of 12 and get a small group of them together and go from park to park to park. So, every few years, you’ll see me in my van, with the grandkids, visiting the parks. We’ll be doing that this summer and there will be four this time. Which ones we go to depends on how much time I get them away from their parents, but it may be Canyonlands, it may be Capitol Reef or it may be Zion, Bryce or Arches. We’ll find out.”
According to campaign spokesperson MJ Henshaw, Romney will be back in the region before the election in November.
“We’ll definitely be back in the area to meet with voters as the election approaches,” Henshaw said.
Romney helps raise cash for local GOP candidates
Before Mitt Romney took his Saturday morning tour of the national parks near Moab, he visited Friday with nearly 100 attendees of the Grand County Republican Party Lincoln Day Dinner at Canyonlands by Night and Day. The affair, which boasted a $50-a-plate dinner and dessert, featured speakers including county GOP chair Jeramy Day, Grand County Council Member Rory Paxman, Rep. John Curtis, Utah State Auditor John Dougall, former Grand County Council member Lynn Jackson and San Juan County Commissioner Bruce Adams.
Two candidates slated to run locally in the 2018 election also spoke — business owner Natalie McDowell, who will be running against incumbent Grand County Council Member Jaylyn Hawks, and former police officer Brian Ballard, who is running to replace retiring Council Member Patrick Trim.
While Day would not comment on exactly how much the party raised at the event, he told The Times-Independent, “We raised more this year than the last year … We have seen our numbers grow each year.”
Speaking to the audience, Ballard — who came in third out of four candidates for a pair of seats on the Moab City Council in 2017 — said he appreciated the support of the party in his bid for Trim’s seat.
“I appreciate all your help … and want to keep supporting this community,” Ballard said. “I never thought I would be here, in this position … I’m not the greatest speaker in the community, but I appreciate all of you and will do everything I can for you. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for anybody in this room.”
Ballard added that he wants to see the mill tailings project continue at full speed in the region, and that he was “nervous” about a proposed traffic management program being considered at Arches National Park.
In her address to the audience, McDowell said she has seen a change in Moab over the decades she has lived here — and those changes are bothersome to her.
“I love it here and always want to have a place for my kids to call home here, so that is why I am running,” McDowell said. “Moab has changed so much in the last five years and it’s gone in a direction that is really scary … I see a lot of things I’m not really excited about and I want to keep working with you to make this a community.”
McDowell suggested she would work to bring a Fourth of July event back to Moab and said she “raised her kids here for a reason.”
Day also asked for others to step forward and be candidates for at least two local offices on the November ballot.
“If anyone is feeling inspired and desires to run against [Grand County Council Member Mary McGann], you have my support,” Day said. And while The Times-Independent has reached out to Grand County Clerk/Auditor Diana Carroll on multiple occasions for comments as to whether she would be running again, Day seemed to advance the notion that she would not seek a fourth term in office, saying,
“The same thing goes for the county clerk position. [Carroll] will not be running again and right now we have a [candidate] running that is a former bookkeeper ... and Chris Baird, who is also running. So, I think it is important for us to get somebody in there that has some good Republican values.”
Representative Curtis, who is running for the 3rd Congressional District seat he won in the 2017 special election to replace Jason Chaffetz, told the audience he wanted to give a special thanks to McDowell and Ballard for their decision to run for the county council.
“I don’t think many people know how scary that is, to go out there and run,” Curtis said. “So, to those of you doing it, thank you. I know first hand that the rubber meets the road here locally, and it’s where decisions are made. When somebody’s dog barks and you get the call locally, that’s real stuff. I used to say … ‘Wait until you are a mayor and at a town hall meeting with some neighbors and you are putting a road in their back yard.’ Those are the tough meetings.”
Curtis was the mayor of Provo from 2010 to 2017.
At the Lincoln Day Dinner, former Grand County Council Member Gene Ciarus was awarded the 2018 Lifetime Service award by Jackson for his dedication and support of the party and governmental affairs in Grand County.
For more information about the Grand County Republican Party, visit the group’s Facebook page at facebook.com/grandcountygop.