Mitt Romney booed at raucous Utah GOP convention as speakers attack the Biden agenda

With 2,145 of registered delegates in attendance at in-person convention — and masks in short supply — state’s Republican leaders urge party unity after a divisive year.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sen. Mitt Romney faces a hostile crowd during the Utah Republican Party’s 2021 Organizing Convention at the Maverik Center in West Valley City on Saturday, May 1, 2021, where he was booed by Republican delegates numbering more than 2,100.

West Valley City • Sen. Mitt Romney was lustily booed by the more than 2,100 Republican delegates who packed into the Maverik Center on Saturday for the party’s state convention.

“Aren’t you embarrassed?” said Romney trying to deflect the chorus of catcalls that greeted him as he took the stage.

“I’m a man who says what he means, and you know I was not a fan of our last president’s character issues,” said Romney as delegates attempted to shout him down. Accusations that Romney was a “traitor” or “communist” flew from the crowd like so many poison darts.

The cacophony of disapproval only ended after outgoing party chair Derek Brown scolded delegates to “show respect” for Romney.

“You can boo all you like,” said Romney. “I’ve been a Republican all of my life. My dad was the governor of Michigan and I was the Republican nominee for president in 2012.”

[Video: See Sen. Mitt Romney get booed by Utah Republicans]

Romney wasn’t the only recipient of boos from the crowd. Gov. Spencer Cox also caught a measure of disapproval.

“I know some of you hate me for some of the decisions I had to make,” said Cox as he took the stage to a smattering of boos from delegates upset with COVID-19 restrictions. “But I want to point out that some of you haven’t been paying attention.”

Cox touted the state’s rapidly improving economy following the COVID-related downturn, noting Utah was one of two states to see net job growth during the pandemic. He also said the state did not go as far as some other states with virus-related restrictions.

“We banned government vaccine passports,” said Cox to cheers, referencing a bill passed during the 2021 Utah Legislature. But that bill only blocked the state government from requiring vaccines. Private businesses can still require vaccinations for customers.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sen. Mitt Romney gets ready to take the stage during the Utah Republican Party’s 2021 Organizing Convention at the Maverik Center in West Valley City on Saturday, May 1, 2021, where he was booed by Republican delegates numbering more than 1,900.

“We’ve also had zero restrictions on religious gatherings since October, and after this school year ends, there won’t be any more masks in schools,” said Cox.

Sen. Mike Lee drew a standing ovation as he took the podium and, hand on his heart, he cheered delegates in attendance “for taking action! Thank you!” he said, calling their presence “an act of faith in the future.”

In a hardline speech, he blasted Democrats and invoked the U.S. Constitution and Founding Fathers, whom he praised for constraining government power on behalf of the people. He underscored their guarantees of unfettered gun ownership and limited intrusion in the lives of private citizens.

Quoting George Washington, Lee said U.S. exceptionalism rested in faith in its citizenry, not the government. “It means freedom,” he said, adding that Democrats hated Republicans and decrying their new proposals under the Biden administration.

“Their whole agenda is wrapped up around one idea,” Lee said, “unquestionable trust in government.”

He also assailed proposals to increase the number of judges on the U.S. Supreme Court as “a bone-headed idea,” saying it “would destroy judicial independence.” New Democratic efforts to reform U.S. elections, Lee added said, were a move “to destroy local control.”

“There are some truths we can never betray,” Lee told the crowd. “We are the stewards of our own destiny.” He said Biden did not share that view.

“He wants us dependent on government,” Lee said, adding the president also wanted “to extend lockdowns. We want to end them!” The senator quipped that the Centers for Disease Control — responsible for guiding the nation’s health policies during the pandemic — “was less about disease and more about control.”

Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, too, underscored a perceived threat from Washington to Utah values, and she accused Biden of jeopardizing the state’s energy sector with recent limits on development on public lands. Henderson said the Democratic-controlled Congress wanted to raise taxes irresponsibly and that it had thrown trillions in pandemic relief funds at the states during the health crisis.

“We all know there’s nothing more expensive than free money,” she said.

And like other speakers, she urged party members to put aside divisions. “We are at a crossroads,” she said. “There is much at stake.”

Congressman Chris Stewart called the Biden administration’s approach “radical socialism,” criticizing its leaders — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, he said “kind of s--ks” — and he singled out the New Green Deal, proposed in some Democratic circles to address the climate change emergency.

“You’d think they’d run out of dumb ideas, but they don’t,” Stewart said, to cheers from the audience. He then accused that the media of intentional bias, echoing a common theme struck by former President Donald Trump.

“They are actively deceptive,” he said. “They lie to you.”

Congressman Burgess Owens offered deep gratitude for Utah’s focus on family, sense of volunteerism and respect for racial diversity. “We’re the least racist state in the country and the least racist country in the world,” he said.

“We do not apologize for who we are,” said Owens. “We love family, God, country and we respect women. That is who are.”