Rolly: Romney gets an introduction into the wild and wacky world of rural Utah politics

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune Paul Rolly.

Former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney got a taste of Utah’s unique politics when he attended the Iron County Republicans’ Lincoln Day Dinner shortly after announcing his candidacy for the U.S. Senate.

To make those folks happy, he would have to be Grizzly Adams.

To say the experience in Cedar City was bizarre would be an understatement — at least when one hears how Romney reportedly described the encounter to several friends and acquaintances.

“He’s got to be thinking, ‘What have I gotten myself into,’” said developer Kem Gardner, one of Romney’s closest pals.

According to accounts Romney and his campaign staffers told to acquaintances, the event got off to a bad start as soon as the entourage arrived in Cedar City and attended the hourlong “meet and greet” before the Republican fundraising dinner.

Attendees peppered Romney about backing legislation to legalize polygamy and to do away with the signature-gathering option for candidates to get on primary ballots (a tack Romney himself used).

Romney escaped through the kitchen, where he had photos taken with those helpers, and into a private room to hide out until the dinner.

But things then got even stranger.

The invocation came from Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who became a folk hero to anti-federal government forces for staging an armed confrontation with Bureau of Land Management agents when they tried to seize his cattle after he failed to pay grazing fees for 20 years.

Bundy’s prayer lasted for more than five minutes, according to the accounts, as he railed to God about federal atrocities. When he finished, instead of the traditional “amen” from the audience, he received a standing ovation.

Next up was Entrata CEO Dave Bateman, who has become a right-wing star for financing the Republican Party’s lawsuit against SB54, which provided multiple paths to the primary ballot, including signature gathering. Lawsuit supporters want candidates to qualify for the ballot by going through party conventions.

After Bateman argued for the purity of Republican candidates being vetted by convention delegates, he introduced the keynote speaker: Ron Paul, the former Texas congressman and presidential candidate, who used his time to blast the federal government, central banks and the U.S. military presence around the world.

Romney was one of several candidates who gave much shorter spiels to the audience. Afterward, well-wishers — eager to drive home the values they expect in a GOP candidate — mobbed Romney and his team.

A woman approached a young female Romney campaign staffer and suggested she would make a great sister wife in the woman’s polygamist family.

Welcome, Mitt, to rural Utah.

Correction • The $700,000 the Utah Legislature has appropriated for the nonprofit Better Days 2020 over the next two years will be used exclusively for educational and cultural programs and events to honor the contributions of women to the state and to commemorate the 100th anniversary of women earning the right to vote.

None of that money will be used toward the statue of Martha Hughes Cannon, the nation’s first female state senator, which will replace television pioneer Philo T. Farnsworth at the U.S. Capitol. A previous column inaccurately implied otherwise.