A publicity entourage and security escort moved through charged crowds across Weber State University’s main campus March 13 as Senate hopeful Mitt Romney stopped along his statewide endorsement campaign to participate in a guest lecture series. In a town hall-style Q and A, Romney fielded questions from the campus community concerning climate change policy, Utah’s economy and his criticism of the president.
Following a meet-and-greet that swarmed WSU’s Shepherd Union with community members seeking photo-ops with the former presidential candidate, Romney met one-on-one with The Signpost to speak about the campaign.
Having been born and raised in Michigan and having found both commercial and political success in Massachusetts, Romney received backlash from within the Utah Republican Party when he announced his run for the senate. Utah GOP chair Rob Anderson told the Salt Lake Tribune in January Romney was “doing what Hillary Clinton did in New York — campaigning in a state he hasn’t spent much time in.” Romney believes, however, that his roots run deep in the Beehive State, and he’s eager to get back to them.
“My parents were both raised in Utah. My ancestors helped settle Utah,” Romney said. Between his time as a student at Brigham Young University, coordinator of the 2002 Winter Olympics and recent resident of Utah, Romney says his time spent living in Utah totals 10 years, “and 10 years is time to get to know a state.”
Bloomberg political reporter Sahil Kapur pointed out, however, that Romney’s Twitter location remained set to Massachusetts until the day Sen. Orrin Hatch announced his retirement.
“This is home for us, and I believe the values of Utah are values we need to have in Washington,” Romney said. “And I think I can represent that well.”
Anderson hasn’t been Romney’s only critic. A contentious, on-again-off-again relationship developed between Romney and the president, beginning with Trump’s public endorsement of Romney’s second presidential campaign in 2012.
Four years later, however, during Trump’s presidential campaign, the soon-to-be POTUS lashed out at his then-opponent Romney, tweeting that he was “one of the dumbest and worst candidates in the history of Republican politics.”
This prompted Romney to tweet the following week that had he been privy to Trump’s stance on the KKK, Muslims, and Mexicans, he would never have accepted the endorsement in the first place.
All this left many surprised when the president tweeted Feb. 19 endorsing Romney’s run for the Senate. Romney has accepted the endorsement but says he won’t become acquiescent.
“He’s the president,” Romney said emphatically. “He’s president of the United States and the leader of my party. The president and I are on the same page with regards to a great deal of policy, particularly the policies of the first year, but when he says something I disagree with, I call that out. The president respects individuals who call it like they see it.”
Romney does appear to be on the same page with many of the policies produced by Trump’s administration, the GOP tax code in particular, about which he remains optimistic despite many students’ and educators’ concerns about the plan calculating graduate program funding as income.
“The best thing about the tax code changes is it’s said to start businesses and create new enterprises, such that when people come out of school, they can find jobs — and they’re good jobs with higher pay than they would have had otherwise.” Romney believes that the prospects are greater for those graduating with not only graduate degrees but bachelor’s and associate’s degrees as well, though he failed to acknowledge the prospects of those pursuing academic careers.
In the wake of the Stoneman Douglas shooting, Romney adhered tightly to one of the GOP’s pillars: states’ rights.
“Most actions taken to protect our schools and our kids in our schools I think should be taken at the state level,” Romney said, “because provisions that may be attractive or may be politically acceptable or that may be effective in New York City may not be effective in Cedar City.”
However, Romney would see bump-stocks removed from public domain and said he supports intensified, federally overseen background checks on firearm purchases.
Romney’s position on cannabis runs even more parallel to GOP party lines—that is, how those lines used to look. On a map of states that have passed legislation to legalize cannabis, Utah is beginning to look like an island, four of its six neighboring states having legalized marijuana to some degree. Gallup found in 2017 that 51 percent of Republicans are now in favor of cannabis legalization, up nine percent from the year prior.
Romney is resolute in his position against recreational legalization but does support cannabis “prescribed by a legitimate doctor and dispensed by a legitimate pharmacy — not a storefront that sells brownies laced with cannabis.” This issue will be on Romney’s radar now that a recent poll conducted by the Salt Lake Tribune and the University of Utah Hinckley Institute of Politics revealed that 76 percent of Utahns support a medical marijuana initiative that may be on the November ballot.
Romney’s appearance at WSU coincided with the removal of former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who held the position for which Romney publicly interviewed in December 2017.
In a lengthy report published in the New Yorker on March 12, investigative journalist Jane Mayer reported that Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer, discussed a memo with Robert Mueller’s investigation team that indicated Russia may have interfered with Romney assuming the mantle of secretary of state and urged Trump to favor Tillerson.
In his first public remark concerning Tillerson’s removal, Romney said matter-of-factly, “I think he was a very fine choice as secretary of state, and I believe he has served our nation well and appreciate his service and sacrifice and wish him the very best. I don’t know what the process was for the change, but I certainly respect and admire the service of Secretary Tillerson.”
Romney’s religious influences were questioned frequently during his presidential campaign and featured heavily in the Netflix documentary “Mitt,” but he maintains his faith hasn’t blinded him to the diversity of his constituency.
“When you serve in a public position, your highest oath and responsibility is to the Constitution and the laws you are sworn in to defend and honor,” Romney said. “And you do that without regard to a religion, race, sexual orientation — any of the differences between us.”