Related to the presidential candidate by blood and religion; each traveling separate roads.
On a sultry day in Council Bluffs, Iowa, in July 1846, 496 Mormon men, accompanied by many wives, children, and at least 18 laundresses, set off on a long march for San Diego to do battle with Mexico on behalf of the United States of America. When they finally arrived here in January 1847, the so-called Mormon Battalion had been worn down to 335 weary soldiers, plus remaining camp followers, and the fighting with Mexico, which never amounted to much in the first place, was over.
As far as has been recorded, none of Mitt Romney’s ancestors belonged to the weary band that straggled into the dusty Pueblo de San Diego at the end of their long desert trek. The journey had been personally sanctioned by Mormon president Brigham Young, who furnished the volunteers knowing they would be paid by the federal government for their mission into the vast new western spaces, where he counted on them to promulgate the faith of the church, founded just 16 years before in upstate New York.
Having arrived in San Diego, they fanned out from their small base to Orange County and Los Angeles, then north to Monterey and San Francisco. A few ended up at a place called Sutter’s Mill near Sacramento. Other ex-brigadiers headed northeast to San Bernardino, cutting a wagon road through the Cajon Pass and on to the Salt Lake Valley in Utah, where seven-year-old Miles Park Romney, the great-grandfather of Mitt Romney, arrived with his family in 1850, two years after gold was discovered in California.
Miles would eventually take five wives, conforming to the practice of polygamy dictated by the edict of church founder Joseph Smith and enforced by Brigham Young, who himself had been “sealed” to 55 brides. “They were trying to build a generation out there in the desert,” Mitt Romney has said, “and so he took additional wives as he was told to do. And I must admit I can’t imagine anything more awful than polygamy.”
Mitt Romney’s great-grandmother, Hannah, Miles’s first wife, apparently agreed. “I used to walk the floor and shed tears of sorrow,” she wrote in a letter quoted by Romney biographers Michael Kranish and Scott Helman in their book The Real Romney. “If anything will make a woman’s heart ache, it is for her husband to take another wife, but I put my trust in my Heavenly Father and prayed and pled with him to give me strength to bear this trial.”
In 1881, another order came down from the church. Miles and his family were instructed to move from Utah to Arizona. A slow and dangerous trip of 400 miles, write Kranish and Helman, landed them in a rough-and-tough town called St. Johns, where a newspaper railed against the Mormon men and their multiple wives. “Hang a few of their polygamist leaders such as . . . [Bishop David] Udall [and Miles] Romney . . . and a stop will be put to it.”
The newspaper called Romney “a mass of putrid pus and rotten goose pimples; a skunk, with the face of a baboon, the character of a louse, the breath of a buzzard and the record of a perjurer and common drunkard.”
Miles struck back with his own paper, the Orion Era, further inflaming an already volatile situation. One night in 1885, with a federal marshal in close pursuit, Romney headed for the Mexican border. “The marshal had a gun in one hand and handcuffs in the other,” recalled Hannah. “I told him Mr. Romney was not at home. He said he had better give himself up to save the country expense and himself more trouble.”
Once into Mexico, Romney continued south 90 miles to the Piedras Verdes River valley, where he had been instructed by church leaders to help found a polygamist colony, which became known as Colonia Juárez. There polygamy would thrive beyond the authoritarian reach of the United States government and its intolerant citizenry. Mitt Romney’s father, George, the future governor of Michigan, was born there in 1907 to Gaskell Romney, one of Miles’s sons by his first wife Hannah.
On a calm, sweltering fall day in 2012, the phone rings in a Palm Springs condo; it is answered by the genial-sounding voice of Douglas Wayne Romney, age 67.
His grandfather was Orin Romney, Sr., a son of Miles Park Romney and half-brother of Gaskell Romney, which makes Douglas a relatively distant cousin to Mitt (but still family, which counts for a lot among Romneys). Gaskell’s mother was Miles Park Romney’s first wife Hannah Hood Hill; Orin was born to Miles Park Romney’s fourth wife, Alice Marie “Annie” Woodbury, a school teacher.
Douglas, or Doug as he is known, is well acquainted with the family’s history in Mexico, how the Romneys prospered there for many years, cultivating vast tracts of idyllic farmland. Then, in July 1912, Mexican revolutionaries besieged the colony, causing Gaskell and his family, including his only wife and five-year-old son George, to hastily pack their bags and flee north across the border to El Paso. They would never return.
Doug’s clan remained in their Mexico colony throughout the most violent days of the revolution, later passing down stories of collecting the bullets left by marauding revolutionaries. Many Romneys are still there, though Doug’s father and grandfather and their families eventually returned to the United States.
“My father came out of Mexico a year or two before World War II,” Doug recalls. His parents, who met in Mexico, were married in the Salt Lake Temple in May 1941. It is a sacred place, which, to nonbelievers (known as “gentiles” by church members) is strictly off limits. His mother went to the University of Utah, was a missionary in New York for two years, and was a member of the church’s General Board of the Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Association.
Doug was born in the hospital at Hill Air Force Base, Hillfield, Utah, in 1945, and grew up in the Salt Lake City and Bountiful, Utah, of the 1950s.
In 1961, the family moved to Orange County, where his father and mother owned and operated 116 apartment units in several buildings near Disneyland. He graduated from Anaheim High School in 1963 and went on to get a degree from Cal State Fullerton. He was a high-school teacher of English, German, and Latin, as well as drama, technical theater, and video production before retiring. (Doug’s great grandfather, Miles Park Romney, also had a flair for drama, and was at one time president of the St. George Dramatic Association. It has been reported that he performed in plays at the St George Social Hall, a converted wine cellar.)
Besides Palm Springs, Doug has lived in San Diego — “I go to San Diego to get away from the desert heat” — owning a unit at 3200 Sixth Avenue, the iconic mid-century condominium complex across the street from Balboa Park. The four-story building was designed in 1959 by noted architect Henry H. Hester and was built by Colonel Irving Salomon, the father of former city councilwoman Abbe Wolfsheimer.
Doug says he’s never met his cousin Mitt, but as a child was introduced to Mitt’s father George when he was head of American Motors in the 1950s. Doug’s family went to pick up a new Rambler from the factory, where George Romney, chairman and president of the company, personally handed them the keys.
One other thing: Doug Romney is gay.
“If I sound bitter, I don’t mean to,” he says, not sounding bitter. “I left the church about 35 years ago, and I don’t have much contact with my family.” He goes on to explain that he is no longer a practicing Mormon because he doesn’t see much point in hiding his sexual identity in order to attend a church that has long condemned homosexuality.
His decision was reinforced, he says, by the campaign for Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage in California. The Mormon Church was a key proponent of the ban, leaning heavily on its members to furnish cash for the multimillion-dollar TV-advertising campaign and waging its own fierce public-relations battle on the measure’s behalf.
“Proposition Hate,” says Doug Romney, who once sang in the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus during his time here. He sounds slightly bitter at the first mention of the measure, the legality of which is likely to be ultimately considered by the U.S. Supreme Court. The church’s hardline position has been repeatedly endorsed by Mitt Romney, who this year has made opposition to gay marriage a key plank of the Republican Party’s presidential platform.
“I personally am outraged that the Mormon Church, headquartered in Salt Lake City, spent millions of dollars to defeat marriage equality in this state.”
Although no longer a Mormon, Romney says he still adheres to some of the church’s moral and ethical values. “I have tried to live my life with honesty and integrity, values that I was taught there.” He adds, “As a teenager, I went into the basement of the temple and was baptized for the dead dozens of times. I also know that I am sealed to my parents to be reunited in the afterlife.”
Notes Romney, “I have heard that archaeological research has revealed no conflict with the events described in the Book of Mormon.”
In October 1986, Clyde Romney was running for a seat on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.
A Los Angeles Times reporter wrote: “Romney, a burly man with a receding hairline and a disarming smile, is described by those who know him well as a man of integrity, high morals, compassion and honesty.”
His political foes weren’t as charitable. “A snake-oil salesman who will say anything to anybody at any time to get a vote,” one told the Times writer. “He’s a nice guy; he’s got a beautiful family, but you can be a nice guy and have a beautiful family and still be a political snake-in-the-grass.”
Some of the antagonism was laid to the fact that Romney was new to the North County’s fifth district, having moved in from just across the line immediately before he declared his candidacy. Republican opponents complained that he was also a newcomer to their party. He’d been a lifelong Democrat but switched his registration in 1983, when he became chief of staff to GOP Congressman Ron Packard, a fellow Mormon whose popularity was not easily transferred to Romney, despite Packard’s repeated endorsements.
A dentist who attended Brigham Young University, Packard had pulled off a remarkable 1982 congressional upset as a write-in candidate, soundly beating fellow Republican Johnnie Crean, a high-living, well-financed mobile-home scion from Corona. In the June primary, Crean edged Packard by 92 votes.
Many credited Packard’s victory to the legions of smiling Mormons who flooded the district, armed with apparently inexhaustible supplies of door hangers and golf pencils to remind voters to write Packard’s name in on the ballot. It was only the third time in American history that a congressional seat had thus been won.
Roy “Pat” Archer, the Democrat in the contest, claimed dirty tricks were employed against him, asserting: “There were more than 1600 felonies committed in this race.” That December, the Palomar College political-science professor told an Associated Press reporter, “there were about 1500 defacements (of voting booklets) and another 100 or so other things, like poll workers [who were] soliciting people to vote for Packard not taking pencils out of voting booths that had ‘Write-in Ron Packard’ on them, and allowing Packard supporters to campaign within 50 feet of polling booths.” But the Democrat’s complaints came to naught.
Romney, who served almost five years as bishop of the church’s Palomar Ward, Escondido South Stake — a position of high trust and honor also held by Mitt Romney in his own home ward of Boston — often bragged that his drive and organization of the county’s Saints had made the difference for Packard. His boasting stirred resentment among other members of the congressman’s inner circle. One anonymous critic told the Times that Romney was “pushy and domineering,” adding, “The first thing I saw of him, he was taking over a meeting when in fact he was a stranger.”
“My impression is that he is running for office to be elected on the coattails of Ron Packard’s following,” Al Diederich, manager of the Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce, said to the Times reporter. “I have a high regard for Congressman Packard. I don’t know that Mr. Romney has paid his dues to the community. I think you ought to have a little record of some time of community service that more than scratches the surface.”
Oceanside City Councilman John MacDonald, Romney’s opponent, sent a mailer to voters pointing out that Romney had been: “Elected to a local school board — quit after one year of a four-year term. Appointed as aide and campaign manager to a congressman in Washington — quit in midterm to return to North County to run for office.”
Romney attempted to counter this characterization in a 1986 interview with the Los Angeles Times: “John MacDonald resembles North County’s [incumbent] elected officials. He is very much a product of the Establishment in the coastal communities. Clyde Romney, on the other hand, is considerably younger and more representative of the types of families that have been moving into North County for the last decade or more.”
It was Romney’s campaign theme, the new replacing the old, but like his cousin Mitt, Clyde remained deeply rooted in his church, its rituals and values, no matter how mysterious and controversial they might seem to outsiders. Mitt and Clyde shared a great-great-grandfather, Miles A. Romney, the Mormon convert who as a young man sailed from Liverpool, England, to America in 1841 with his wife and small family, thus launching the Romney dynasty.
Mitt was descended from Miles A. Romney’s son, Miles Park Romney, who was sent by the church to establish Colonia Juárez in Mexico, where Mitt’s father George, the future governor of Michigan, was born. Clyde was descended from another of Miles A. Romney’s sons, George, who was born in England six years before the family came to America. He was the namesake of a famous painter.
The Romneys of England already had a long and storied history, note biographers Kranish and Helman. “They came from the quiet village of Lower Penwortham, near Liverpool, England. For years Romneys had been moving out and on; one named George Romney had gone to London and become a celebrated eighteenth-century portrait painter. But most were of modest means.” The George Romney who came to America would become a prosperous merchant and Mormon bishop, ultimately taking three brides and fathering 33 children before dying in 1920 at 89 in Salt Lake City.
However modern and progressive a candidate as Clyde tried to portray himself during the 1986 campaign, he would ultimately trip himself up. With a little more than two weeks until election day, he sent a telegram to the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service. In the wire, he called North County a “combat zone” infested by “huge gangs of illegal aliens that line our streets, shake down our schoolchildren, spread diseases like malaria, and roam our neighborhoods, looking for work or homes to rob.”
Latino political groups, infuriated by the statement, went on the attack, and, despite the best door-hanging efforts of the now-familiar smiling Mormon legions, MacDonald beat Romney by a wide margin. “I regretted the play that issue got,” Romney told a Los Angeles Times reporter in an interview the following summer. “When that story broke it put me in a defensive position when I was trying to come up with an affirmative solution to a serious problem. People who knew me knew I was deeply hurt to be labeled a racist.”
He had subsequently apologized to his Latino critics, he said.
“I very deliberately waited until after the race to make a public apology, because I wanted no ulterior motives attached to it,” he said. “It was your basic mea culpa statement.”
Romney attempted a comeback by running for Palomar College’s board of trustees in 1988, but placed at the back of the pack. A lawyer, he continued to practice. He set up a lobbying business with his former boss Ron Packard, known as Packard Government Affairs, when the Republican retired from Congress. Romney’s already sizable role in local Mormon affairs grew even broader when he became San Diego Regional Public Affairs director for the church.
Reporters often asked him about the matter of the Saints’ dictum against homosexuality. Interviewed for a lengthy September 1993 San Diego Union-Tribune piece about how local churches were dealing with the AIDS epidemic with outreach programs and charity, Romney said that Mormonism is “very specific in its condemnation of homosexual lifestyle and practices.” There were no outreach programs. Mormons, he said, advised gays to “bring their lives into conformity with the teachings of the church.”
In 1992, he proudly led curious reporters through the construction site of the faith’s new $24 million San Diego temple as it was rising above Interstate 5 in University City. It would be crowned by a gleaming, gold-gilded statue of the trumpet-wielding Angel Moroni, who, Mormons believe, materialized in a New York forest in 1823 to give church founder Joseph Smith a set of golden plates containing tenets of the new faith. These would later be set down by Smith in the Book of Mormon.
Among other roles in the local church hierarchy, Romney was a chief fundraiser for the new temple. He was also chairman of its grand opening and sanctification festivities, a way of introducing nonbelievers, all regarded by the Mormons as potential converts, to the church. “When completed, it will be as widely identified with San Diego as the Coronado Bay Bridge and the Convention Center,” Romney predicted. Added an aide, “We believe families exist into eternity, and the function of the temple is to see that their marriages are sealed for eternity.”
One sunny Saturday in late August 2006, two decades after his failed race for supervisor, Clyde Romney collapsed and died while working in his garden. He was 63. He left his wife, Deborah Dedekind Romney, and six children, one of whom was named Miles.
It was May 2009, three years after his father Clyde’s passing, and Miles Romney, 32, a great-great-grandson of George Romney — brother of the original Miles Romney, who brought the family name to America — was playing a familiar role as Petco Park’s life of the party.
“Wearing a Padres cap and a Padres jersey with the number ‘1040’ on his back, Romney is a favorite to friends and other Padres fans who cheer his antics,” said a news release from the University of San Diego, a Catholic school known for its ties to the local business establishment.
“On this night — and each time he attends a Padres game — Romney was ‘transformed’ into his alter ego, the Dancin’ CPA. He was out of his seat and dancing around to celebrate key moments in the game — such as Scott Hairston’s three-run home run to give the Padres a 6–5 lead in the fifth inning.
“‘I love it,’ exclaimed Romney, who has been a Padres fan since 1987.”
Miles, the release went on to say, “is a 2005 graduate of the master’s program in accounting. At USD, Romney teaches Accounting 202: Principles of Managerial Accounting. Married to Amy Romney, a 2003 USD graduate, Miles is active in USD’s Accounting Society, which made up 50 of USD’s contingent at Monday’s game.”
A 2001 graduate of Brigham Young University, Romney worked for Deloitte & Touche before continuing his schooling in San Diego and becoming a professor. But even with graduate-level financial training, like many Americans, he was caught short by the country’s hard economic times. In March 2011, Wells Fargo Bank filed a Notice of Default regarding the mortgage on a house he owned in San Marcos; the notice said that $15,461.91 was overdue. The debt went unpaid, and a Notice of Trustees Sale was recorded June 28. The next day, records show, the house was sold and the mortgage paid off.
“That was about the home losing about 40 percent of its value and me deciding to go back to school,” Romney said last week during a telephone interview.
Last year, he taught his final class at USD and moved to Lansing, Michigan, the state the late George Romney, Mitt’s father, once governed, to pursue a PhD in accounting at Michigan State. That May, he was invited by the USD faculty to give the school’s annual “last lecture,” an honor bestowed on departing faculty members deemed especially worthy.
The student newspaper reported: “Romney began by satirically describing who he was and what his history at USD had been. Romney then continued to break down his lecture into three main themes, including the quest for excellence, ‘you can’t take it with you,’ and ‘life is short.’
“The lecture took a more serious turn when Romney shared the story of the three major losses he had experienced through the deaths of his father, his son Matthew at two weeks old, and his mother-in-law.
“‘You never know how much time we are going to have,’ Romney said. ‘Why waste it doing stupid stuff?’”
Being a Romney in Salt Lake City has long meant money, influence, and freedom to venture far beyond the valley of the Great Salt Lake. Brother Orson Douglas Romney was blessed with all three. One of 35 children fathered by Bishop George Romney (brother of the original Miles A. Romney), Orson, according to an early biographical sketch, had “holdings in the Co-operative Furniture Company, in which he is a director; the Oregon Lumber Company; and in the Amalgamated Sugar Company, in which he is a heavy stockholder.”
In the 1920s and ’30s, Orson and his wife, Emma Phillips Romney, became year-round regulars at the Hotel del Coronado. No less an authority on San Diego history than Burl Stiff, the late society columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune, wrote in April 2006 that the Romneys “maintained a two-bedroom suite at the hotel, traveling between Utah and California by train.”
Orson died at 81 in 1941 in Salt Lake City, but his family often returned to Coronado.
“Their youngest son, Melbourne Romney, and his wife, LaRue Peterson Romney, spent their wedding anniversaries there, sunning on the beach and dancing in the hotel’s ballroom,” wrote Stiff.
“After World War II,” he continued, “Melbourne Romney Jr. brought his bride, Janice McCune Romney, to the Hotel Del for their honeymoon. (The Romneys had given up their suite during the war, so Melbourne and his wife had a room ‘above the kitchen.’ The suite was off the hotel’s courtyard, in the northwest corner.)”
The occasion for Stiff’s take was a small wedding reception held at the Del’s beachfront restaurant for Orson’s great-great-granddaughter, Ashley Ann Romney Farr and her husband, Jesse Farnsworth Woodcox.
“Ashley Ann’s grandmother and grandfather, Janice and Melbourne Romney Jr., were there — they have retired to The Shores in Coronado — and so were her mother and father, Paula and Hal Johnson Farr, and her brother, Taylor Romney Farr. They live in Salt Lake City.”
“‘We were here for our honeymoon,’ Jan Romney recalled. ‘We took the ferry and came over. He had given me a little black Studebaker as a wedding gift. We only spent two nights here — it was too expensive!’
“Her husband added: ‘I paid cash for the Studebaker. It was brand-new, and it cost $1700.’”
According to its company website, the Romney Lumber Company today owns strip malls in Phoenix, Salt Lake, and Lancaster, and a Burger King and billboards in Orange, California, among other investments.
Three of Mitt Romney’s five sons are well familiar with San Diego County and its real estate. In September 2007, the North County Times caught up with Matt, then 35, as his father was making his first bid for the presidency: “All of us are canvassing the country,’ he said outside a Mira Mesa office where volunteers made fundraising phone calls. He mentioned that his brothers were campaigning in Alaska and Florida. ‘We really try to get around and represent my dad as best we can.’...
“Matt Romney said campaigning has not been easy as a working father with a pregnant wife,” the story continued. “‘We really wouldn’t be doing this if he wasn’t a good person,’ he said. ‘I mean you can only get your kids to do so much. It’s a labor of love.’
“A father of three children, [Matt Romney] moved his family to Rancho Bernardo two years ago and jumped into real estate full time. He is vice president of Excel Realty Holdings, a San Diego real estate firm. ‘It’s a little depressing up there (in Seattle),’ he said smiling. ‘And I started to get into real estate…I tried to figure out, ‘Where do I want to be?’ And San Diego was just the absolute perfect spot.’”
Matt, who lives in North City’s 4S Ranch, has been senior vice president of capital markets at Excel, based in Rancho Bernardo, since 2009, according to the company website.
“We focus on outdoor shopping centers,” he told the North County Times in a February 2012 interview. “My role is capital markets, so capital markets and investor relations. I deal with investment bankers and raising money.”
Matt’s brother Craig works in another company in the same building, the North County Times noted in the February interview. Craig is also in the real-estate business, and was a California delegate for his father at the Republican Convention in Tampa Bay.
Mitt’s oldest son, Tagg, is a partner in Solamere Capital, a Boston-based private-equity outfit bankrolled by John Miller, a native of Hyrum, Utah, who started out in the family’s small slaughterhouse and ended up assembling a national meat-packing empire worth billions of dollars. Miller is Mitt’s next-door neighbor in La Jolla’s exclusive Barber Tract, where Miller has purchased late actor Cliff Robertson’s sprawling oceanfront estate, which he is extensively remodeling.
But it is Matt Romney who takes public credit for calling his part of the Romney clan to San Diego County. “My wife and I looked at a map, and we were looking at areas where my family lived, and we wanted to be near family,” Matt told the North County Times. “But not knowing where they’d end up, we decided that we’d pick a nice place where we could attract them to come. My goal — and they know it — is to get as many family members as we can living near us as possible. My brother (Craig) just moved out here a year and a half ago, and my folks ended up buying a place here. They’re here, but not as much as we’d like. They’re kind of busy right now.”
In reality, those familiar with the local Mormon community say that San Diego’s suburban North County — both its high-end neighborhoods such as Rancho Santa Fe, and middle-class cities, including Escondido — has been a historic bastion of strength, culturally, financially, and politically, for the Saints. That is what has drawn so many Romneys here. There are at least several hundred in the county, of different generations, lifestyles, and economic position.
Excel’s chairman and chief executive officer is Gary Sabin, a graduate of Brigham Young University and himself a prominent leader in San Diego County’s Mormon community. In 2000, Sabin told the San Diego Union-Tribune that he had contributed $50,000 to Proposition 22, an early measure to ban same-sex marriage in California that was heavily backed by the Saints.
“I’m obviously pleased [with the outcome],” the paper quoted Sabin. “I just have a strong belief in the family.”
Since the beginning of this year, Sabin has donated $52,500 to Mitt Romney’s campaign, and to a joint fundraising committee called the Romney Victory Fund.
This August, Sabin wrote an angry letter to the San Diego Business Journal berating Bloomberg Business Week for a cover story it ran under the headline “Inside the Mormon Empire.” The piece was accompanied by an illustration, which, according to the church-owned Deseret News of Salt Lake City, portrayed “John the Baptist telling [Joseph] Smith and [fellow church leader Oliver] Cowdery to ‘build a shopping mall, own stock in Burger King, and open a Polynesian theme park in Hawaii that shall be largely exempt from the frustrations of tax,’ to which Joseph responds: ‘Hallelujah.’”
“It’s perhaps unsurprising that Mormonism, an indigenous American religion, would also adopt the country’s secular faith in money,” said the Bloomberg story. “What is remarkable is how varied the church’s business interests are and that so little is known about its financial interests.”
The story continued: “Although a former Mormon bishop is about to receive the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, and despite a recent public-relations campaign aimed at combating the perception that it is ‘secretive,’ the LDS Church remains tight-lipped about its holdings. It offers little financial transparency even to its members, who are required to tithe ten percent of their income to gain access to Mormon temples.”
Sabin’s letter to the editor countered that “The bulk of the Church’s holdings consist of thousands of meeting houses, welfare farms, missions, and temples throughout the world, which are capital-consuming, not capital-generating.”
Sabin wrote, “Those who attempt to define the Church as an institution devoted to amassing monetary wealth miss the entire point. The key to understanding the Church is to see it not as a worldwide corporation, but as millions of faithful members in thousands of congregations across the world following Christ and caring for each other and their neighbors.”