ST. GEORGE — In an interview with St. George News on Tuesday, Mitt Romney said one of his biggest priorities right now is to get more Utahns to the voting booth.
The two-time Republican presidential candidate and former governor of Massachusetts currently running to represent Utah in the U.S. Senate also touched on his plans for immigration reform, gun laws, foreign affairs and his relationship with President Donald Trump if he’s elected.
Romney, 71, will face off against state legislator Mike Kennedy in the June 26 primary to determine the Republican Party nominee for the Senate seat left vacant by Orrin Hatch, who is retiring.
Romney said he definitely won’t be running for president again, and he will likely seek to only serve two to three terms as a senator. After his time in the Senate, Romney said he’d “probably” be retired.
“I’m not going to be able to match Orrin Hatch’s record,” Romney said. “I’d be 112 or so if I tried to.”
Romney said he was surprised and dismayed to hear about Utah’s relatively low voter turnout, which is something he has hoped to address with his campaign.
“Individuals lost their lives to provide for us the right to vote,” Romney said. “When we vote, we acknowledge their sacrifice and show appreciation for it.”
A study released last year found that because many of Utah’s political races are noncompetitive, voter participation in Utah was ranked 39th in the nation in the 2016 election. But the race between Romney and Kennedy has been anything but noncompetitive. Kennedy beat Romney by 2 percentage points at the GOP state convention in April, but because Romney gathered enough signatures to guarantee his spot on the ballot, they are facing off in the primary election this month.
Romney said there really isn’t much of a difference between his platform and Kennedy’s. The thing that differentiates himself from Kennedy is his experience, Romney said. He touted his experience managing a successful business, running the 2002 Olympics in Utah, and as a governor and presidential candidate.
“I haven’t heard (Kennedy) describe any issue where we disagree,” Romney said.
Romney on Trump
Romney, who called Trump “a phony” and “a fraud” during the 2016 presidential campaign, has apparently buried the hatchet with the president. He largely supports the president’s policies, although he said he’s glad the president hasn’t followed through with some of his campaign promises, like Trump’s “damaging” idea to impose a 45 percent tariff on Chinese goods.
Romney said he’s not going to be afraid to stand up against the president if Trump says something that he doesn’t think is right.
“I’ll be with the president when he’s right on policy. When he says something that is highly divisive or racist or anti-immigrant, I’ll stand up and speak out.”
Last week, Romney predicted Trump’s reelection in 2020, saying he’d easily win the party’s nomination and solidly win a second term. After Romney’s prediction, Trump then called him a “straight shooter.”
Romney said he hopes Trump will focus on narrowing tariffs on nations that are the “bad actors” and not making broad changes, which would hurt the nation as a whole and Utah.
“Utah is a net export state,” Romney said. “We send more goods outside our state than we buy from around the world. I want to keep exports opening and thriving.”
Monday’s summit between Trump and North Korea dictator Kim Jong Un was a “promising step,” he said.
“The commitments made by Kim Jong Un to denuclearize on a permanent basis North Korea, that’s a very encouraging commitment. We’ll see what happens down the road in terms of how much verification will be available, because in the past they’ve tended to cheat.”
Specific goals if elected
The immigration system in the U.S. is a mess, Romney said, and the reluctance of government to make lasting changes on the legal immigration system is “an example of how badly out of control Washington is.” As senator, he will look for ways to fix the legal immigration system by making it more open and transparent.
Romney added that he’d support allocating funds for Trump’s plan to build a wall on the Mexican-American border.
“I think we need to have a barrier against the southern border. I think it’s necessary, but not sufficient.”
To really solve illegal immigration, Romney said he’s in favor of a plan to punish American employers if they hire illegal immigrants. He also would support a deal to give legal status to “Dreamers,” who were young immigrants protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
Romney expressed strong support for the Second Amendment and said he believes each state should be able to decide how to manage its gun laws. If elected, Romney will seek to impose laws to ban bump stocks and make sure the federal background check system is organized.
“Other laws that refer to safety and guns and school safety, which is a real concern of mine and many others, those things can be better managed at the state level,” Romney said. “If states can manage something, get it back to the state, get it out of the federal government. The federal government is in our hair in way too many ways, and I want to get them out of my hair as much as possible.”
Romney also said he wants to move much of public lands from federal control to the control of individual states, like how Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments were shrunk in Southern Utah last year.
Connections to Southern Utah
Romney said he loves St. George, and many of his ancestors helped settle Southern Utah. His great-great-grandfather Miles Romney was the architect on the St. George temple for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a religion Mitt Romney is still a proud member of.
“We’re fifth generation Utahns — we took a little time off to go to Massachusetts to go to school and work, but I’m back to Utah,” Romney said with a smile.
Utah has been home for him for the past 10 years, Romney said. He also has two sons and nine grandchildren who live in the state.
“I just want to see people get out and vote and to demonstrate their commitment to the democratic process,” Romney said.
Romney is slated to be a keynote speaker at the 2018 Business Summit in St. George on Friday morning.
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