From my perch as editorial cartoonist at The Salt Lake Tribune and fifth generation Utahn, I have been in a unique position to watch the rise and rise of Mitt Romney. The first thing to know about Mormon Utah is that it is a small town; one of Mitt Romney’s ancestors likely spent time in the Utah territorial prison with my one of my, and Jon Huntsman Jr.’s, ancestors for practicing polygamy.
Romney arrived in Salt Lake to rally a local Olympics organization that was in disarray. Utahns took hard the accusations that they had fraudulently secured the 2002 Winter Olympics through bribery and kickbacks, (i.e. the usual way that Olympic host cities are gamed). It struck at the root of our well-scrubbed, squeaky-clean self image.
Getting Romney to agree to come to Utah to head the games was a major coup (a position, by the way, that Jon Huntsman Sr. thought his son, Jon Jr., was perfectly suited to fill. I know, because I was invited to lunch with both after doing a sour grapes cartoon featuring the two of them. I came away persuaded that father and son were gracious and interesting people, and that Jon Jr. was being groomed for bigger things-perhaps even a shot at the Presidency. I said this was a small town). Romney’s business success and Dudley Do-Right image was just the right tonic for dispirited Utahns who had begun to wonder if we were in over our heads.
Romney established control and discipline over an event that appeared to be mortgaging Utah’s future. Austerity became the buzzword. I attended an Olympic fundraising buffet in a wealthy venue that ran out of food – a ridiculous display of penny-pinching that was borne with good humor and played on our starving-yet-heroic pioneer roots.
In the end (and with massive federal support) the Salt Lake Olympics were a huge success. For a brief, shining moment, Utah was cool. We reveled in the global spotlight that featured our beautiful city, and the Games are still a universal point of pride with Utahns.
Romney oversaw a professional, nearly flawless event. I say “nearly flawless” because on two occasions, Romney’s personal force-field briefly flickered, revealing a real human.
One involved Olympic traffic and Romney, reportedly, saying something inappropriate. The other were questions about his personal taxes.
Recently, Romney made a hash of his coming-out world tour by dissing London and questioning its ability to handle Olympic traffic. He actually was speaking from first-hand experience. Early in the Salt Lake games, Romney found himself stalled in traffic to a venue up one of Utah’s narrow canyons. Storming to the front of the jam, he found an over-punctilious volunteer screwing up his games over some security nicety. According to those present, Romney let loose the f-bomb.
Anywhere else, people would shrug and say, “F’in A! You tell ‘em, bro!” But this is Utah, where swearing is still a sign of being in the devil’s thrall. And, gosh darn it, that is Romney, who doesn’t sin.
He denied it all. To this day, Utahns are divided among those who couldn’t imagine their man saying the f-word, and those who are sure he did and lied about it because image is everything in this culture.
Romney’s Utah tax issues were of the kind that make CPAs tingle with excitement. It’s all very complicated, but the short version is that Romney made out to be a Utah resident when the tax implications were advantageous, then claimed the same for his Massachusetts home. In short, Romney is all about finding the best angle within the system. Narrowly defined, he does nothing wrong, yet he doesn’t miss a trick when it comes to angling for personal advantage.
Personally, I think he swore.
Award-winning cartoonist Pat Bagley describes himself as a fifth generation “retired” Mormon from Salt Lake City. He is a graduate of BYU and served a two year mission in Bolivia. For 32 years Pat has been the editorial cartoonist for The Salt Lake Tribune, and his cartoons are exclusively syndicated internationally by Cagle Cartoons. Email comments to Pat at firstname.lastname@example.org.