Mitt Romney: On school shootings, immigration and when he’ll challenge Trump. A Q&A with Utah’s new Senate candidate.

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Mitt Romney is interviewed by Natalie Gochnour, Associate Dean and Director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute during the Utah Economic Outlook & Policy Summit 2018, hosted by the Salt Lake Chamber at the Salt Lake City Marriott Downtown at City Creek on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018.

Washington • Mitt Romney says he’s not a carpetbagger. And he calls Utah “my state.”

In a wide-ranging interview after he announced he would seek the Senate seat from Utah, the former Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate said he has deep roots in Utah, has made it his home and believes he would be a valuable voice for Utah issues if elected.

Romney also says he can work with President Donald Trump — with whom he’s had strong disagreements — but will speak out against him when needs be.

How do you respond to criticism from Utah Republican Party Chairman Rob Anderson and others that you’re running for a Senate seat from Utah where you haven’t lived most of your life?

“I think he raises questions that people want to have answered. After all, I was a governor of another state and Massachusetts was where I lived for a long time. And I’m proud of that state, proud of my record there. But [wife] Ann and I are proud to make Utah home. We moved here officially in 2014 and have lived here full time. Before then we were here for the Olympics and for college and love it and, of course, our family roots are here. But [Anderson] is raising good questions and those are ones that I’m glad to answer and pleased to answer. … People have legitimate questions and I plan on answering them. And by the way, with regard to process, I’ll be working it hard. I worked hard as a presidential candidate and I’ll work hard for the U.S. Senate from my state.”

Some people may charge that you’re a carpetbagger. How do you respond?

“I’ve lived here permanently for four years and of course, I’ve had a home here — the ski home — longer than that. But this has been our home for four years and before that the two experiences I mentioned earlier. It’s funny, but that everywhere I go, even when I was running for president, people assumed I was from Utah. And the only place that people don’t assume I’m from Utah is some places when I’m in Utah. I’m a Utah person by heritage, by family roots and of course, this is where I live now. I mean we saw the country and we decided to make this our home.”

Do you plan to self-fund your campaign?

“No. I’ll be seeking campaign contributions from people across the state.”

Is this in any way a steppingstone to run for president again?

“Look, I’ve got to dispel the notion that my running for president was just a steppingstone to becoming a senator from Utah. I’ve run for president before. I gave it two tries. I’m not running for president again. Thanks.”

Would you run for a leadership post in the Senate?

“I would be, if elected, I would be a junior senator and leadership is not in line for a junior senator.”

Would Romney be a one-note anti-Trump senator?

“Well, the president and I are on the same page with regards to the policy agenda. I’m not pleased that he backed the 45 percent tariff idea and dropping out of NAFTA. But on taxes and regulation and bureaucracy, I mean, and his appointments to the Supreme Court and the other circuit and district court bench, we’re on the same page. You know where I stand and if he says something or tweets something or there’s some issue that I find that I can’t agree with, I’ll point that out. He’s not going to change at his age. I’m not going to change, either. So I’ll call them like I see them. But policywise, we’re going to work together.”

Can you work with this White House?

“We have very similar views on policy. I’m probably more of a deficit hawk, but we can work on issues. I’m absolutely convinced of that.”

Do you agree with Trump’s move to shrink the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments?

“I think we need to revisit how we work with the Antiquities Act and how decisions are made about public lands. I think there needs to be a lot more local involvement and state involvement. [Alaska Sen.] Lisa Murkowski has a bill that deals with that — when there are large adjustments in federal lands being designated as national monuments — I think she’s looking for state legislatures to opine on that. I think we need to revisit the whole approach to these presidential, unilateral designations. I think President Clinton and President Obama way overstepped the intent of that law by designating such large tracts as they did without substantial involvement of local individuals. And I think President Trump was right to opine about the specific borders and how much of the land was reverted to normal public lands as opposed to monument-designated lands.”

How up to speed are you on Utah issues and especially on rural Utah issues?

“I’ve spent some time talking to people over the last few months about those issues and ... those who are in the agriculture community are very concerned about federal lands issues and the usage of federal lands and want, if you will, clarity and specificity and how the lands are going to be used. Because they get whipsawed around about where they can and cannot graze their cattle. They’re concerned about the wild horses and other animals that are on this land … There are issues that are very important to the agriculture community. One also is the temporary visa issue in the ag business. They need temporary workers but the whole process of getting visas and having clarity about the process is a real mess.”

What is your stance on immigration?

“I welcome legal immigrants to our country, and those who follow the process and come here legally are welcome and if they become citizens they’re as much an American citizen as anybody else. At the same time, we have to stop illegal immigration. I was probably more conservative on that than most Republicans. I won’t mention names but I was not in favor of the DREAM Act. Now that’s water under the bridge. President Obama made representations with regards to the Dreamers that have changed circumstances. But I’m pretty hard on stopping illegal immigration and that meant, for me, we need to have a border fence or wall or whatever you want to call it. We need to put in place a very effective e-verify system and heavily penalize companies that hire folks who are here illegally. I also agree with the president that we should stop the chain migration approach that immigration has taken. And I think he’s right about this lottery program. But I don’t think we’re far apart on immigration. That’s probably a part of where I’m more conservative than most.”

You delayed your announcement for Senate because of the school shooting in Florida. What is your position on gun control?

“There is something we can do about this to protect our kids. And this is the time to be talking about it when it’s very much in front of the national mind. We need to give this real consideration. What is the best way to protect our kids? I’ve looked at federal legislation but there’s no federal legislation I’ve seen that would have prevented the attacks that have occurred. I don’t support any of the federal legislation that’s been out there. I make an exception, by the way, for Sen. [Orrin] Hatch’s enhanced background bill. I have not read that but I’ve been briefed on that and that’s something I would probably support. … Washington is a slow process place. States get things done. And I think with regard to protecting our students in schools that states — state legislators in particular — ought to look to actions they can take. And I’m talking about the wide array of options. Maybe that’s police protection at schools. Maybe volunteers protecting our schools. Or entry systems at school property. Or intervention teams that would target kids who have said things or posted things that are disturbing. Or restrictions on purchases by a certain disturbed person. These are things that I think state legislatures should take a look at.”