Though it may be hard to believe, 2014 is a major election year. The entire state House of Representatives, along with half of the state Senate, along with the Attorney General and all members of the US Congress (including Utah’s four congressional seats) will be up for grabs.
Utah Political Capitol is using this opportunity to provide in-depth interviews with the various candidates running for office so that you can have a better idea about not only the policies, but the personalities, of those appearing on the ballot.
To start this year-long series, we sat down with Ross Romero to talk to him about his run for Utah Senate District 4.
Ross Romero recently kicked off his campaign for Senate District 4. Romero, former state senator from District 5 and a vice president at Zions Bank, is campaigning to replace outgoing Senator Pat Jones who has held the seat since 2006. During the 2012 redistricting planning, Jones’ and Romero’s seats were combined. Instead of running against another Democrat for the seat, Romero opted not to run for reelection and instead run for mayor of Salt Lake County against fellow Senate Democrat and current county mayor, Ben McAdams. Utah Political Capitol got the opportunity to interview Mr. Romero about the positions he’ll be campaigning on, his feelings about losing the county mayor nomination, and his plans once elected.
UPC: What issues are you running on?
Romero: Making sure we have a strong education system is first and foremost. That continues as part of my service history, my mother was a public teacher in Utah for 38 years, distinguished herself as a Huntsman Award recipient, so education was always part of our family discussion and [public education] certainly has allowed me very good opportunities. I want to make sure those opportunities exist for the next generation of Utahns.
I would add the economy—I always held a private sector job in the time I served and have continued to have a private sector job. Understanding how the legislature affects business, jobs, and the economy is something I’m very focused on. Additionally, we have significant challenges with air quality, [and we must be] looking at how we can improve air quality, what we can do as a state legislature, through incentives and allowances with local municipalities. I think funding mass transit projects is important, perhaps asking those who drive at higher rates to pay a little more for their driving opportunities, particularly in the winter months.
We must also work at implementing and executing Medicaid services. My hope is the expansion of Medicaid, in light of the Affordable Care Act allowances, [which will help us find a way to provide] services to our resident’s needs, [that] is something I’ll be anxious to jump into.
UPC: In 2012, you ran for county mayor and lost the nomination to then-Senator Ben McAdams. Can you talk about what you were feeling after the race?
Romero: Well obviously I was disappointed in the outcome, but it’s given me an opportunity to reflect a bit on whether I had anymore to give and whether I could still add value. Having not been in office for a year or so, I can say that I do miss the public policy. That’s, in large measure, what prompted me to look where I could continue to add value.
I know the legislature, the issues, the policy, and the procedures. Quite naturally, it came back to the state senate. I didn’t know at the time that Senator Jones wasn’t going to run for reelection, so I didn’t know that would be an option. As you recall, our district had been combined in redistricting. One of the things I didn’t want, as Senate Democratic Leader, were us legislators challenging each other for limited opportunities.
I’m pleased to have the opportunity to go back to the state senate and engage in the public policy discussion.
UPC: At the time you were criticized for your position on Ski-Link, a proposed gondola project connecting the Canyons and Solitude Mountain ski resort. As of July, it appears the Ski-Link project is dead. What is your opinion on projects in the future that are similar to Ski-Link?
Romero: I was never supportive of Ski-Link – that was something that was assumed because of the location where I had a fundraiser. What was unfortunate about that, and what didn’t come out clear in all my years of service at the legislature, is that I have been extremely supportive of tourism and the outdoor activity community. I served on the tourism task force and when I was in the Utah House of Representatives, the ski resort I represented was The Canyons.
Friends in Park City, knowing my support for the ski industry, offered to have a fundraiser. It was their suggestion that it be held at The Canyons and, in light of the fact that I’m very proud to be a supporter of tourism and the importance it plays in our state’s economy, [it made sense].
At no point was I ever an advocate of Ski-Link, in fact, when I had the chance to review the specifics of Ski-Link, I came out as publicly opposed to it. I didn’t think it solved the concern for what was alleged to be a way to connect the resorts without transit. What I suggested as an alternative, wanting to be a problem solver, was to take Guardsman’s Pass as a roadway that currently exists and provide that as a mechanism to connect the resorts. That as a solution wouldn’t impede on anymore back country, make any changes to sides, wouldn’t adversely affect watershed, and accomplish something that I hope we could do: enhance the promotion of tourism. I [also] proposed a bus that ran on natural gas that took skiers between the two canyons. Ultimately, as I understand it, that is something that is being explored.
UPC: What have you been up to since the mayoral race?
Romero: I’ve been very active in advancing and passing federal immigration reform, I’ve been back to DC on a few occasions in support of that proposition and was an advocate for and assisted President Obama in raising money in the west for his reelection.
I have generally remained informed and engaged on a more national level [and have built] strong relationships with past state legislators that have gone on to serve in US Congress. In fact, the campaign kickoff on December 14 had Kristen Cinema, a representative out of Arizona, [thanks to] a relationship with her that began when I served as a state legislator. I also assisted a friend, Eric Garcetti, who became the mayor of Los Angeles as I helped with some of his campaign efforts and held some fundraisers for him here in Utah and in L.A.
UPC: While you were in the Senate, you were the Senate Minority Leader. Would you seek the office of Minority Leader again if elected?
Romero: One of the things I thought was important was to utilize the talents of the members our caucus. Senator Jones committed to serving one term as the leader, I had committed to one term as the leader, Senator Davis is serving as the leader now, so I suspect others may have an interest in running to be the leader.
With only five positions, it is imperative we all speak up and lead in own ways and certainly in our own committees.
That is something I think my candidacy brings: a working knowledge of the issues, how the body works, the relationships with colleagues, especially the Republican colleagues. Working with the other side of the aisle is something I was proud to do. [I felt] it was something I could speak to on business issues and community development issues. I was happy to be part of the team when I was there.
UPC: Can I get your take on the Swallow Investigation and the Federal Court ruling on same-sex marriage?
Romero: I haven’t followed with the kind of detail when you’re involved in as part of the body, the kind of information the state House Investigative Committee has. I think it’s safe to say that there have been several revelations that should cause the Utah public concern. I’m pleased that those issues have come forward and are being investigated… [and] I suspect the county attorneys will have jurisdiction to pursue proper redress should they find it appropriate. Today we got the news that Sean Reyes is our new appointed attorney general, and I have known Sean in the private sector for many years. I think he’ll do an excellent job in bringing integrity to the office and I think he’s a good selection.
[In regards to Shelby’s ruling] I think it’s wonderful that a federal judge, having reviewed and heard arguments in the case, decided that Amendment 3 was unconstitutional on equal protection grounds.
It’s a bit surprising that the state of Utah didn’t ask for a stay in its pleadings and as a result the judge’s hands were tied. I was down at the hearing this morning, he expressed that same sentiment and that they hadn’t proven their burden in seeking it from him and that proper remedy would be to let the state proceed to the next level for a stay. I was pleased with the court’s ruling, pleased with the result the community has seen. The outpour of support for people to commit to each other in marriage. We’ll see what lies ahead.
(Editor’s note: This interview took place in mid-December).
For more information on Ross Romero’s campaign for Utah’s 4th Senate District, go to Facebook.com/RossRomeroOfUtah.