ST. GEORGE — Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney was among the guest speakers at the Utah Farm Bureau’s “Fusion Ag Conference and Trade Show” in St. George Friday afternoon.
Hundreds of farmers from around the state attended the second day of the conference at the Dixie Center St. George, which provided networking opportunities and agricultural advocacy resources. Additional keynote speakers included Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and newly elected U.S. Rep. John Curtis.
Romney began his speech by talking about his family’s roots in Southern Utah, including his great-great-grandfather Miles Romney who designed the St. George Tabernacle.
“He had been a carpenter of some renown in England before he came as an immigrant to the U.S.,” Romney said, “and Brigham Young sent him here to work on the temple, but he also designed the tabernacle.”
Known for his specialty in designing spiral staircases, Romney said his great, great grandfather clashed with Brigham Young on how far up the tabernacle’s spiral staircase would go in relation to the building’s interior balcony.
“If you want to see what happens when the irresistible force meets the immovable object, you can go over to the tabernacle in St. George, and you can see, sure enough, my great-great-grandfather’s spiral staircase goes all the way up to the second floor and then it goes down six feet to get to the balcony.”
It is widely speculated that Romney will run for U.S. Senate in Utah this year to replace the retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch, but he has yet to confirm that speculation. Even so, in his keynote address, he outlined some ideas for his vision of improving the federal government while addressing some of the concerns of rural Utahns.
Romney expressed optimism for the future of the country, saying it has the potential to lead the world with a large young workforce to help drive the economy. He also said innovation and technology will be major drivers of growth.
“Exponential progress and innovation is what’s just beginning to hit the world – now not just in computers. You’re going to see health care change, automobiles change – in my view, in about 10 years, I’ll bet 90 percent of the cars we buy are electric.”
However, despite his optimism, he also said there are several problems facing the nation, issues that are going to need to be addressed by the federal government.
The federal deficit as it relates to entitlement programs, global warming, poverty, wage stagnation and increasing automation are among some of the issues that Congress has not but will have to address, he said.
“If we want to have a future for the kids, we’re going to have to finally tell them the truth about what’s going to happen to their Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid,” Romney said. “We’re going to have to change the deal or we won’t be able to honor the promises, and not a lot has been done to tackle the challenge.”
He said federal legislators should look to Utah for some solutions.
“I’m absolutely convinced that Utah is a model for the nation, that Utah has a lot to teach the nation at large.”
Romney noted several areas in which the state leads the U.S. as a whole, including:
- Lower growth in government spending.
- Lower debt growth.
- Lower carbon dioxide production.
- More exports.
- Higher employment growth.
- Higher income growth.
While these trends are encouraging, he said, there are still problems in the state, pointing out several rural counties that have had shrinking economies in the last decade, including San Juan County in Southern Utah.
Several steps can be made to help such economies grow, he said, including locating new state government facilities in rural areas to stimulate their economies, increasing access to broadband internet services, improving hospital infrastructure and payment in lieu of taxes for counties in which most of the land is federally owned.
On the subject of federal public lands, Romney said he thinks the Antiquities Act needs to be reformed, suggesting that the president should have to get preapproval from Congress or the local legislature before designating national monuments.
“There has to be a lot more local involvement in decisions on how federal land is used, and the priority has to be for multiple uses and access into federal lands.”
His ideas on immigration were met with audience enthusiasm, receiving a round of applause after suggesting that states should be able to make their own decisions on how many work visas may be issued to immigrants, rather than quotas set by the federal government.
“People in the dairy industry pretty much need foreign workers to come in as guest workers probably for the entire year,” Romney said. “People in cattle or other parts of the agricultural industry may need people coming in from foreign places on a temporary basis.”
“To be a great nation, I think you have to be a good nation,” he said in conclusion. “Utah is a good state with good people. Utah has a lot to teach our nation.”
Other keynotes – Spencer Cox and John Curtis
In his address, keynote speaker John Curtis, who was recently elected through a special election to represent Utah in the U.S. House, said he’s looking to tackle several areas of concern to farmers, including tax reform, immigration, improving rural infrastructure and regulatory reform.
“I want you to know there’s a strong movement underway to change the course of the direction of this ship that has had these excessive regulations that don’t make any sense.”
Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, while not outright committing to it, confirmed again in his keynote address that he is thinking about running for Utah Governor when Gov. Gary Herbert retires.
Cox, who has an agricultural background, told the conference attendees that he is working to give greater representation to farmers and other rural professions.
“We need people who understand what it means to go out and get their hands dirty and make a living,” Cox said. “That’s my message today – we need your voices, we need your voices in Congress and we need your voices in the state capitol.”
The Fusion Conference continues Saturday with a number of breakout sessions discussing an array of agricultural topics. Tickets and registration can be obtained in person at the Dixie Center St. George, 1835 S. Convention Center Drive.
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