About George Wilcken Romney
George Wilcken Romney (July 8, 1907 – July 26, 1995) was an American businessman and a politician. He was chairman of American Motors Corporation from 1954 to 1962. He then served as the 43rd governor of Michigan from 1963 to 1969 and then the 3rd United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development from 1969 to 1973.
Romney was a candidate for President in 1968, ultimately losing the Republican nomination to Richard Nixon. He is the father of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, and the husband of former Michigan Senate candidate Lenore Romney. George W. Romney was a kinsman of George Romney (1734-1802), a noted portrait painter in Britain during the last quarter of the 18th century.
Romney was born to American parents in a Mormon colony in Mexico. His family moved back to the United States when he was a child.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
George Wilcken Romney (July 8, 1907 – July 26, 1995) was an American businessman and Republican Party politician. He was chairman of American Motors Corporation from 1954 to 1962, the 43rd governor of Michigan from 1963 to 1969, and the United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development from 1969 to 1973. He is the father of former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney and the husband of former Michigan U.S. Senate candidate Lenore Romney.
Romney was born to American parents in the Mormon colonies in Mexico. His family moved back to the United States when he was a child, ending up in Salt Lake City, Utah, where they struggled during the Great Depression. Romney worked in a number of jobs, served as a Mormon missionary in England and Scotland, and attended two universities in the U.S. but did not graduate from either. In 1939 he moved to Detroit and joined the American Automobile Manufacturers Association, where he served as the chief spokesperson for the automobile industry during World War II. He joined Nash-Kelvinator in 1948, and became chairman and CEO of American Motors Corporation in 1954. There he turned around a failing company by focusing all efforts on the smaller Rambler car. Romney mocked the products of the "Big Three" automakers as "gas-guzzling dinosaurs" and became one of the first high-profile media-savvy business executives. Devoutly religious, Romney presided over the Detroit Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Romney entered politics by participating in a state constitutional convention to rewrite the Michigan Constitution during 1961–1962. He was elected Governor of Michigan in 1962 and was re-elected by increasingly large margins in 1964 and 1966. Romney worked to overhaul the state's financial and revenue structure, culminating in Michigan's first state income tax, and greatly expanded the size of state government. Romney was a strong supporter of the American Civil Rights Movement while governor. He briefly represented moderate Republicans against conservative Republican Barry Goldwater during the 1964 U.S. presidential election. He requested the intervention of federal troops during the 1967 Detroit riot.
Romney was a candidate for President of the United States in 1968. While initially a front-runner, he proved an ineffective campaigner, and fell behind Richard Nixon in polls. Following a mid-1967 remark that his earlier support for the Vietnam War had been due to a "brainwashing" by U.S. military and diplomatic officials in Vietnam, his campaign faltered even more, and he withdrew from the contest in early 1968. Once elected president, Nixon appointed Romney Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Romney's ambitious plans for housing production increases for the poor, and for open housing to desegregate suburbs, were modestly successful but often thwarted by Nixon. Romney left the administration at the start of Nixon's second term in 1973. Returning to private life, Romney advocated volunteerism and public service, and served as a regional representative of the Twelve within his church.
See also: Pratt-Romney family
Romney's grandparents were polygamous Mormons who fled the United States with their children because of the federal government's opposition to polygamy. His maternal grandfather was Helaman Pratt (1846–1909), who presided over the Mormon mission in Mexico City before moving to the state of Chihuahua and who was the son of original Mormon apostle Parley P. Pratt (1807–1857). Romney's uncle Rey L. Pratt (1878–1931) would in the 1920s play a major role in the preservation and expansion of the Mormon presence in Mexico and in its introduction to South America. Romney's parents were Gaskell Romney (1871–1955), who was not polygamous, and Anna Amelia Pratt (1876–1926); they married in 1895 in Mexico. A more distant kinsman was George Romney (1734-1802), a noted portrait painter in Britain during the last quarter of the 18th century.
George Wilcken Romney was thus born in Colonia Dublán, Galeana, in the Mexican state of Chihuahua – one of the Mormon colonies in Mexico – on July 8, 1907, to American parents. George had three older brothers and would gain two more brothers and a sister. Gaskell Romney was a successful carpenter, house builder, and farmer who headed the most prosperous family in the colony.
The Mexican Revolution broke out in 1910 and the Mormon colonies were endangered in 1911–1912 by raids from marauders, including "Red Flaggers" Pascual Orozco and José Inés Salazar. Young George heard the sound of distant gunfire and saw rebels walking through the village streets. The Romney family fled and returned to the United States in July 1912, leaving their home and almost all of their property behind. Romney would later say, "We were the first displaced persons of the 20th century."
From here on, George Romney grew up under humble circumstances. The family subsisted with other Mormon refugees on government relief in El Paso, Texas for a few months before moving to Los Angeles, California, where Gaskell Romney worked as a carpenter. In kindergarten there, other children mocked Romney's national origin by calling him "Mex". In 1913, the family moved to Oakley, Idaho, and bought a farm, where they grew and subsisted largely on Idaho potatoes. The farm was not well located and failed when potato prices fell. The family moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1916, where Gaskell Romney resumed construction work but was generally poor. In 1917, the family moved to Rexburg, Idaho and Gaskell became a successful home and commercial builder in an area growing because of high World War I commodities prices. George Romney started working in wheat and sugar beet fields at the age of eleven and was the valedictorian at his grammar school graduation in 1921. The Depression of 1920–21 brought a collapse in prices and local building was abandoned. The family returned to Salt Lake in 1921, and while his father resumed construction, George became skilled at lath-and-plaster work. The family was again prospering when the Great Depression hit in 1929 and ruined them. George watched his parents fail financially in Idaho and Utah, with their debts taking a dozen years to pay off; seeing their struggles influenced his life and business career.
In Salt Lake, Romney worked to support himself while attending Roosevelt Junior High School and, beginning in 1922, Latter-day Saints High School. There he played halfback in football, guard in basketball, and right field in baseball, all with more persistence than talent, but in an effort to uphold the family tradition of athleticism, he earned varsity letters in all three sports. In his senior year, he and junior Lenore LaFount became high school sweethearts; she was from a more well-assimilated Mormon family. Academically, Romney was steady but undistinguished. Romney graduated high school in 1925; his yearbook picture caption was "Serious, high minded, of noble nature—a real fellow." Partly to stay near Lenore, whom he pursued singlemindedly, Romney spent the next year as a junior college student at the colocated Latter-day Saints University, where he was elected student body president. He was also president of the booster club and played on the basketball team that won the Utah-Idaho Junior College Tournament.
Missionary work, marriage and family, early career
After becoming an elder, Romney earned enough money working to fund himself as a Mormon missionary. In October 1926 he sailed to Great Britain and was first assigned to preach in a Glasgow, Scotland slum; the abject poverty and hopelessness he saw there affected him greatly, but he was ineffective in gaining converts and temporarily suffered a crisis of faith. In February 1927 he was shifted to Edinburgh and in February 1928 to London, where he kept track of mission finances. He worked under renowned Quorum of the Twelve Apostles intellectuals James E. Talmage and John A. Widtsoe; the latter's admonitions to "Live mightily today, the greatest day of all time is today" made a lasting impression on the young Mormon. Romney experienced British sights and culture and was introduced to members of the peerage and the Oxford Group. In August 1928, Romney became president of the Scottish missionary district. Operating in a whisky-centric region was difficult, and he developed a new "task force" approach of sending more missionaries to a single location at a time; this succeeded in drawing local press attention and several hundred new recruits. Romney's frequent public proselytizing – from Edinburgh's Mound, and from soap boxes at Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park and from a platform at Trafalgar Square – developed his gifts for debate and sales, which he would use the rest of his career. Three decades later, Romney said that his missionary time had meant more to him in his work than any other experience.
Romney returned to the U.S. in late 1928 and studied briefly at the University of Utah and LDS Business College. He followed LaFount to Washington, D.C., in fall 1929, after her father had accepted an appointment by President Calvin Coolidge to serve on the Federal Radio Commission. He worked for Massachusetts Democratic U.S. Senator David I. Walsh during 1929 and 1930, first as a stenographer using speedwriting, then, when his abilities at that proved limited, as a staff aide working on tariffs and other legislative matters. Romney researched aspects of the proposed Hawley-Smoot tariff legislation and sat in on committee meetings; the job was a turning point in his career and gave him lifelong confidence in dealing with Congress. With one of his brothers, Romney opened a dairy bar in nearby Virginia during this time that soon failed during the Great Depression. He also attended George Washington University at night. Romney did not attend for long, or graduate from, any college in which he was enrolled, and has been described instead as an autodidact.
Romney became an apprentice for Alcoa in Pittsburgh in 1930. When LaFount, an aspiring actress, began earning bit roles in Hollywood movies, Romney arranged to be transferred to Alcoa's Los Angeles office as a salesman. LaFount had the opportunity to sign a $50,000, three-year contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios, but Romney convinced her to return to Washington where he worked for Alcoa and the Aluminum Wares Association as a lobbyist. He would consider his wooing of her his greatest sales achievement. The couple married on July 2, 1931, at Salt Lake City Temple. They would have four children: Margo Lynn (born 1935), Jane LaFount (born 1938), George Scott (born 1941), and Willard Mitt (born 1947).
As a lobbyist, Romney frequently competed on behalf of the aluminum industry against the copper industry, and defended Alcoa against charges of being a monopoly. In the early 1930s he helped get aluminum windows installed in the U.S. Department of Commerce Building, at the time the largest office building in the world. He joined the National Press Club and the Burning Tree and Congressional Country Clubs; one reporter watching Romney hurriedly play golf at the latter said, "There is a young man who knows where he is going." Lenore's cultural refinement and hosting skills helped him in business, and the couple met the Hoovers, the Roosevelts, and other prominent Washington figures. He was chosen by Pyke Johnson, a Denver newspaperman and automotive industry trade representative whom he met at the Press Club, to join the newly-formed Trade Association Advisory Committee to the National Recovery Administration, whose work continued even after that agency was declared unconstitutional in 1935. During 1937 and 1938, Romney was also president of the Washington Trade Association Executives.
Automotive industry representative
After nine years with Alcoa, Romney's career had stagnated; there were many layers of executives to climb through and a key promotion he had wanted was given to someone with more seniority. Pyke Johnson was vice president of the Automobile Manufacturers Association, which needed a manager for its new Detroit office. Romney got the job and moved there with his wife and two daughters in 1939. An association study found Americans using their cars more for short trips and convinced Romney that the trend trend was towards more functional, basic transportation. In 1942 he was promoted to general manager of the association, which he remained until 1948. Romney also served as president of the Detroit Trade Association in 1941.
As World War II raged overseas, Romney (who was soon beyond draft age) helped start the Automotive Committee for Air Defense in 1940, which coordinated planning between the automobile and aircraft industries. Immediately following the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor that drew the U.S. into the war, Romney helped turn that committee into, and became managing director of, the Automotive Council for War Production. This organization established a cooperative arrangement in which companies could share production improvements, thus maximizing the industry's contribution to the war production effort. With labor leader Victor Reuther, Romney led the Detroit Victory Council, which sought to improve conditions for Detroit workers under wartime stress and deal with the causes of the 1943 Detroit race riots. Romney appealed to the Federal Housing Administration and got housing made available to black workers near the Ford Willow Run plant. He also served on the labor-management committee of the Detroit section of the War Manpower Commission.
Romney became the chief spokesman of the automobile industry, often testifying before Congressional hearings about production, labor, and management issues. By war's end, 654 manufacturing companies had joined the Automotive Council for War Production, and produced nearly $29 billion in output for the Allied military forces. These included over 3 million motorized vehicles, 80 percent of all tanks and tank parts, 75 percent of all aircraft engines, half of all diesel engines, and a third of all machine guns. Between a fifth and a quarter of all U.S. wartime production was accounted for by the automotive industry.
As peacetime production began, Romney persuaded government officials to cut short complex contract-termination procedures, thus freeing auto plants to quickly produce cars for domestic consumption and avoid large layoffs. Romney was director of the American Trade Association Executives in 1944 and 1947, and managing director of the National Automobile Golden Jubilee Committee in 1946. From 1946 to 1949, he served as a U.S. employer delegate to the Metal Trades Industry conference of the International Labor Office. Romney's personality was blunt and intense, giving the impression of a "man in a hurry", and he was considered a rising star in the industry.
American Motors Corporation CEO
As managing director of the Automobile Manufacturers Association, Romney became good friends with then-president George W. Mason. When Mason became chairman of the manufacturing firm Nash-Kelvinator in 1948, he invited Romney along "to learn the business from the ground up" as his roving assistant. As Mason's protégé, Romney assumed executive assignment for the development of the Rambler. Mason had long sought a merger of Nash-Kelvinator with one or more other companies, and on May 1, 1954, it merged with Hudson Motor Car to become the American Motors Corporation (AMC). It was the largest merger in the history of the industry, and Romney became an executive vice president of the new firm. In October 1954, Mason suddenly died of acute pancreatitis and pneumonia. Romney was named AMC's Chairman and CEO.
When Romney took over, he reorganized upper management, brought in younger executives, and pruned and rebuilt AMC's dealer network. Romney believed that the only way to compete with the "Big Three" (General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler) was to stake the future of AMC on a new small car line. Together with chief engineer Meade Moore, by the end of 1957 Romney had completely phased out the Nash and Hudson brands whose sales had been lagging. The Rambler brand was selected for development and promotion, as AMC pursued an innovative strategy: manufacturing only compact cars. The company struggled badly at first, losing money in 1956, more in 1957, and experiencing defections from its dealer network. Romney instituted company-wide savings and efficiency measures and he and other executives reduced their salaries by up to 35 percent. AMC was on the verge of being taken over by corporate raider Louis Wolfson, but Romney was able to fend him off. Then sales of the Rambler finally took off, leading to unexpected financial success for AMC. It posted its first quarterly profit in three years in 1958, was the only car company to show increased sales during the recession of 1958, and moved from thirteenth to seventh place among worldwide auto manufacturers. In contrast with the Hudson's NASCAR racing success in the early 1950s, the Ramblers were frequent winners in the coast-to-coast Mobil Economy Run, an annual event on U.S. highways. Sales remained strong during 1960 and 1961, with the Rambler being America's third most popular car during both years.
A believer in "competitive cooperative consumerism", Romney was effective in his frequent appearances before Congress. He discussed what he saw as the twin evils of “big labor” and “big business”, and called on Congress to break up the Big Three. As the Big Three automakers introduced ever-larger models, AMC undertook a "gas-guzzling dinosaur fighter" strategy, and Romney became the company spokesperson in print advertisements, public appearances, and commercials on the Disneyland television program. The CEO, who was known for his fast-paced, shirt-sleeved management style that ignored organization charts and levels of responsibility, often wrote the ad copy himself. Romney thus became a "folk hero of the American auto industry", and one of the first high-profile media-savvy business executives. His focus on small cars as a challenge to AMC's domestic competitors, as well as the foreign-car invasion, was documented in the April 6, 1959, cover story of Time magazine, which concluded that "Romney has brought off singlehanded one of the most remarkable selling jobs in U.S. industry." A full biography of him was published in 1960; the company's resurgence made Romney a household name. In the process, the company's stock had risen from $7 per share to $90 per share and Romney became a millionaire from stock options. However, when he felt his salary and bonus was excessively high for a year, he gave the excess back to the company. After initial wariness, he developed a good relationship with United Automobile Workers leader Walter Reuther, and AMC workers also benefited from a then-novel profit-sharing plan.
Religion was a paramount force in Romney's life: "Except for it, I could easily have become excessively occupied with industry. Sharing responsibility for church work has been a vital counterbalance." Following LDS Church practices, he did not drink liquor or caffeinated beverages, smoke or swear. Beginning in 1944 he headed the Detroit church branch, and by the time he was AMC chief, he presided over the Detroit Stake, which included not only all of Metro Detroit, Ann Arbor, and the Toledo area of Ohio but also the western edge of Ontario along the Michigan border. In this role, Romney oversaw the religious work of some 2,700 church members, preached occasional sermons, and supervised the construction of the first stake tabernacle east of the Mississippi River in 100 years. Because the stake covered part of Canada, he often interacted with Canadian Mission President Thomas S. Monson. Romney and his wife tithed regularly, and during the decade beginning in 1955 gave 19 percent of their income to the church and another 4 percent to charity. Romney's rise to a leadership role in the church reflected the church's journey from a fringe pioneer religion to one that was closely associated with mainstream American business and values.
Romney and his family lived in affluent Bloomfield Hills, having moved there from Detroit in the early 1950s. He became deeply active in Michigan civic affairs. He was on the board of directors of the Children's Hospital of Michigan and the United Foundation of Detroit, and was also chairman of the executive committee of the Detroit Round Table of Catholics, Jews, and Protestants. Starting in late 1956, he headed a citizen-based committee for improved educational programs in Detroit's public schools. The late 1958 final report of the Citizens Advisory Committee on School Needs was largely Romney's work and received considerable public attention; it made nearly 200 recommendations for economy and efficiency and for the need for better teacher pay and new infrastructure funding. Romney helped a $90 million education-related bond issue and tax increase win an upset victory in an April 1959 referendum. He organized Citizens for Michigan in 1959, a nonpartisan group that sought to study Detroit's problems and build an informed electorate. Citizens for Michigan built on Romney's belief that assorted interest groups held too much influence in government, and that only the cooperation of informed citizens acting for the benefit of all could counter them.
Based on his fame and accomplishments in a state where automobile making was a central topic of conversation, Romney was seen as a natural to enter politics. Romney first became directly involved in this area in 1959, when he was a key force in the petition drive calling for a constitutional convention to rewrite the Michigan Constitution. Romney's sales skills made Citizens for Michigan one of the most effective organizations calling for the convention. Previously unaffiliated politically, Romney now declared himself a member of the Republican Party and gained election to the convention. By early 1960, many in Michigan's somewhat moribund Republican Party were touting Romney as a possible candidate for governor, U.S. senator, or even U.S. vice president. Romney briefly considered a run in the 1960 Senate election, but instead became a vice president of the constitutional convention that revised the Michigan constitution from 1961 to 1962.
Governor of Michigan
After a period of pained indecision and a two-day prayer fast, Romney resigned from AMC in 1962 to enter electoral politics. His position as the leader of the moderate Republicans at the constitutional convention helped gain him the Republican nomination for Governor of Michigan. He ran against incumbent Democratic Governor John B. Swainson in the general election. Romney campaigned on revising the state's tax structure, increasing its appeal to businesses and the general public, and getting it "rolling again". Romney decried both the large influence of labor unions within the Democratic Party and the similarly large influence of big business within the Republican Party. His campaign was among the first to exploit the capabilities of electronic data processing. Romney won by some 80,000 votes and ended a fourteen-year stretch of Democratic rule in the state executive spot. Romney's win was attributed to his appeal to independent voters and to the increasingly influential suburban Detroit voters, who by 1962 were more likely to vote Republican than the heavily Democratic residents of the city itself. Additionally, Romney had appeal to labor union members that was unusual for a Republican. Democrats won all of the other statewide executive offices in the election, including Democratic incumbent T. John Lesinski in the separate election for Lieutenant Governor of Michigan. Romney's success caused immediate mention of him as a presidential possibility for 1964.
Romney was sworn in as governor on January 1, 1963. His initial concern was with implementing the overhaul of the state's financial and revenue structure that had been authorized by the constitutional convention. In 1963 he proposed a comprehensive tax revision package that included a flat-rate state income tax, but general economic prosperity alleviated pressure on the state budget and the Michigan Legislature rejected it. Romney's early difficulties with the legislature helped undermine an attempted push that year of Romney as a national political figure by former Richard Nixon associates. One Michigan Democrat said of Romney, "He has not yet learned that things in government are not necessarily done the moment the man at the top gives an order. He is eager and sometimes impatient." His blunt and unequivocal manner also sometimes caused friction. But over his first two years in office, Romney was able to work with Democrats – who often had at least partial control of the legislature – and an informal bipartisan coalition formed that allowed Romney to accomplish many of his goals and initiatives.
Romney held a series of Governor's Conferences, which sought to find new ideas from public services professionals and community activists who attended. He opened his office in the Michigan State Capitol to visitors, spending five minutes with every citizen who wanted to speak with him on Thursday mornings, and was always sure to shake the hands of schoolchildren visiting the capitol. He almost always eschewed political activities on Sundays, the Mormon Sabbath.
Romney supported the American Civil Rights Movement while governor. His hardscrabble background and subsequent life experiences had given him a different perspective from the LDS Church policy on blacks; he reflected, "It was only after I got to Detroit that I got to know Negroes and began to be able to evaluate them and I began to recognize that some Negroes are better and more capable than lots of whites." Romney helped create the state's first civil rights commission. When Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Detroit in June 1963 to stage a civil rights march, Romney issued a proclamation in support of the event and sent two representatives to it on his behalf, but did not attend himself because it was on a Sunday. Romney did participate in a smaller march protesting housing discrimination the following Saturday in Grosse Pointe, after King had left. Romney's advocacy of civil rights brought him criticism from his own church; in January 1964, top Mormon official Delbert L. Stapley wrote him that a proposed civil rights bill was "vicious legislation" and telling him that "the Lord had placed the curse upon the Negro" and it was not for men to remove it. Romney refused to change his position.
In the 1964 U.S. presidential election, Senator Barry Goldwater quickly became the likely Republican Party nominee. Goldwater represented a new wave of American conservatism, of which the moderate Romney was not a part. Romney also felt that Goldwater would be a drag on Republicans running in the all the other races that year, including Romney's own (at the time, Michigan had two-year terms for its governor). Finally, Romney disagreed strongly with Goldwater's views on civil rights; he would later say, "Whites and Negroes, in my opinion, have got to learn to know each other. Barry Goldwater didn't have any background to understand this, to fathom them, and I couldn't get through to him." During the June 1964 National Governors' Conference, 13 of 16 Republican governors present were opposed to Goldwater; their leaders were Jim Rhodes of Ohio, Nelson Rockefeller of New York (whose own campaign had just stalled out with a loss to Goldwater in the California primary), William Scranton of Pennsylvania, and Romney. Romney held an unusual Sunday press conference where he declared, "If [Goldwater's] views deviate as indicated from the heritage of our party, I will do everything within my power to keep him from becoming the party's presidential nominee." Romney had, however, previously vowed to Michigan voters that he would not run for president in 1964. Detroit newspapers indicated they would not support him in any such bid, and Romney quickly decided to honor his pledge stay out of the contest. Scranton entered instead, but Goldwater prevailed decisively at the 1964 Republican National Convention. Romney's name was entered into nomination as a favorite son by U.S. Representative Gerald Ford of Michigan (who had not wanted to chose between candidates during the primary campaign) and he received the votes of 41 delegates in the roll call (40 of Michigan's 48 and one from Kansas).
At the convention, Romney fought for a strengthened civil rights plank in the party platform that would pledge action to eliminate discrimination at the state, local, and private levels, but it was defeated on a voice vote. He also failed to win support for a statement that condemned both left- and right-wing extremism without naming any organizations, which lost a standing vote by a two-to-one margin. Both of Romney's positions were endorsed by former President Dwight Eisenhower, who had an approach to civic responsibilities similar to Romney's. As the convention concluded, Romney neither endorsed nor repudiated Goldwater and vice presidential nominee William E. Miller, saying he had reservations about Goldwater regarding both civil rights and political extremism. For the fall elections, Romney cut himself off from the national ticket, refusing to even appear on the same stage with them. Romney was re-elected in 1964 by a margin of over 380,000 votes over Democratic Congressman Neil Staebler, despite Goldwater's landslide defeat sweeping many other Republican candidates away. Romney won 15 percent of Michigan's black vote, compared to Goldwater's two percent.
In 1965, Romney visited South Vietnam for 31 days and said that he was continuing his strong support for U.S. military involvement there. During 1966, while son Mitt was away on missionary work, George Romney helped his fiancée Ann Davies convert to Mormonism. Governor Romney continued his support of civil rights; after violence broke out during the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965, he marched at the front of a Detroit parade in solidarity with the marchers. In 1966, Romney had his biggest electoral success, winning re-election again by some 527,000 votes over Democratic lawyer Zolton Ferency (this time to a four-year term, Michigan having changed its law). His share of the black vote rose to over 30 percent, a virtually unprecedented accomplishment for a Republican.
By 1967, a looming deficit prompted the legislature to overhaul Michigan's tax structure. Personal and corporate state income taxes were created while business receipts and corporation franchise taxes were eliminated. Passage of an income levy had eluded past Michigan governors no matter the party in control of the legislature. Romney's getting Democratic and Republican factions to compromise on the details of the measure was considered a key test of his political ability.
The massive 12th Street riot in Detroit began during the predawn hours of July 23, 1967, precipitated by a police raid of a blind pig in a predominantly black neighborhood. As the day wore on and looting and fires got worse, Romney called in the Michigan State Police and the Michigan National Guard. At 3 a.m. on July 24, Romney and Detroit Mayor Jerome Cavanagh called U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark and requested that federal troops be sent. Clark indicated that do to so, Romney would have to declare a state of civil insurrection, which the governor was loathe to do from fear that insurance companies would seize upon it as a reason to not cover losses due to the riot. Elements of the 82nd and 101st U.S. Army Airborne Divisions were mobilized outside of the city. With the situation worsening, Romney told Deputy Secretary of Defense Cyrus Vance, "We gotta move, man, we gotta move." Near midnight on July 24, President Lyndon B. Johnson authorized thousands of paratroopers to enter Detroit. Johnson went on national television to announce his actions and made seven references to Romney's inability to control the riot using state and local forces. Thousands of arrests took place and the rioting continued until July 27. The final toll was the largest of any American civil disturbance in fifty years: 43 dead, over a thousand injured, 2,500 stores looted, hundreds of homes burned, some $50 million overall in property damage. There were strong political implications in the handling of the riot, as Romney was seen as a leading Republican contender to challenge Johnson's presidential re-election the following year; Romney charged Johnson with having "played politics" in his actions.
Romney greatly expanded the size of state government while governor. Romney's first state budget in office came in at $550 million for fiscal year 1963, a $20 million increase over that of his predecessor Swainson. Romney had also inherited a $85 million budget deficit, but got the state to where it had a surplus. In the following fiscal years, the state budget increased to $684 million for 1964, $820 million for 1965, $1 billion for 1966, $1.1 billion for 1967, and was proposed as $1.3 billion for 1968. Romney led the way for a large increase in state spending on education, and Michigan began to develop one of the nation's most comprehensive systems of higher education. There was a significant increase in funding support for local governments and there were generous benefits for the poor and unemployed. Romney's spending was enabled by generally prosperous economic conditions that allowed continued government surpluses and by a consensus of both parties in Michigan to maintain and administer extensive state bureaucracies and to expand public sector services.
1968 presidential campaign
Main article: George Romney presidential campaign, 1968
Romney's wide margin of re-election in November 1966 thrust him to the forefront of national Republicans. In addition to his political record, the tall, square-jawed, handsome, graying Romney matched what the public thought a president should look like. Republican governors were determined not to let a Goldwater-sized loss recur, and neither Rockefeller nor Scranton wanted to run again; the governors quickly settled on Romney as their favorite for the Republican presidential nomination in the 1968 U.S. presidential election. Former Congressman and Republican National Committee chair Leonard W. Hall became Romney's informal campaign manager. A Gallup Poll after the November elections showed Romney as favored among Republicans over former Vice President Richard Nixon for the Republican nomination, 39 percent to 31 percent, and a Harris Poll showed Romney besting President Johnson among all voters by 54 percent to 46 percent.
Romney announced an exploratory phase in February 1967, beginning with a visit to Alaska and the Rocky Mountain states. Romney's greatest weakness was a lack of foreign policy expertise and a need for a clear position on the Vietnam War. The press coverage of the trip focused on Vietnam and reporters were frustrated by Romney's initial reluctance to speak about it. The qualities that helped Romney as an industry executive worked against him as a presidential candidate; he had difficulty being articulate, often speaking at length and too forthrightly on a topic and then later correcting himself while maintaining he was not. Reporter Jack Germond joked that he was going to add a single key on his typewriter that would print, "Romney later explained...." The perception grew that Romney was gaffe-prone and an oaf; the campaign, beset by internal rivalries, soon went through the first of several reorganizations. By then, Nixon had already overtaken Romney in Gallup's Republican preference poll, a lead he would hold throughout the rest of the campaign. Romney's national poll ratings continued to erode, and by May he had lost his edge over Johnson. The Detroit riots of July 1967 did not change his standing among Republicans, but did give him a bounce in national polls against the increasingly unpopular president. A couple of months later, Romney staged a three-week, 17-city tour of the nation's ghettos, seeking to engage militants and others in dialogue.
Questions were occasionally asked about Romney's eligibility to run for President due to his birth in Mexico, given the ambiguity in the United States Constitution over the phrase "natural-born citizen". Romney's membership in the Mormon church was scarcely mentioned at all during the campaign, with what indirect attention there was focusing on the contrast between Romney's pro-civil rights stance and his church’s policy at the time of not allowing blacks to participate fully. Some historians and Mormons suspected then and later that had Romney's campaign lasted longer and been more successful, his religion might have become a more prominent issue. Romney's campaign did often focus on his core beliefs; a Romney billboard in New Hampshire read "The Way To Stop Crime Is To Stop Moral Decay". Dartmouth College students gave a bemused reaction to his morals message, displaying signs such as "God Is Alive and Thinks He's George Romney". A spate of books were published about Romney, more than for any other candidate, and included a friendly campaign biography, an attack from a former staffer, and a collection of Romney's speeches.
On August 31, 1967, in a taped interview with talk show host Lou Gordon of WKBD-TV in Detroit, Romney stated: "When I came back from Viet Nam [in November 1965], I'd just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get." He then shifted to opposing the war: "I no longer believe that it was necessary for us to get involved in South Vietnam to stop Communist aggression in Southeast Asia." Decrying the "tragic" conflict, he urged "a sound peace in South Vietnam at an early time." Thus Romney disavowed the war and reversed himself from his earlier stated belief that the war was "morally right and necessary".
The "brainwashing" reference had been an offhand, unplanned remark that came at the end of a long, behind-schedule day of campaigning. By September 7 it found its way into prominence at The New York Times. Eight other governors who had been on the same 1965 trip as Romney said no such activity had taken place, with one of them, Philip H. Hoff of Vermont, saying Romney's remarks were "outrageous, kind of stinking ... Either he's a most naïve man or he lacks judgment." The connotations of brainwashing, following the experiences of American prisoners of war (highlighted by the 1962 film The Manchurian Candidate), made Romney's comments devastating, especially as it reinforced the negative image of Romney's abilities that had already developed. The topic of brainwashing quickly became newspaper editorial and television talk show fodder, with Romney bearing the brunt of the topical humor. Senator Eugene McCarthy, running against Johnson for the Democratic nomination, said that in Romney's case, "a light rinse would have been sufficient." Republican Congressman Robert T. Stafford of Vermont sounded a common concern: "If you're running for the presidency, you are supposed to have too much on the ball to be brainwashed." After the remark was aired, Romney's poll ratings nosedived, going from 11 percent behind Nixon to 26 percent behind.
Romney nonetheless persevered, and formally announced on November 18, 1967, at Detroit's Veterans Memorial Building, that he had "decided to fight for and win the Republican nomination and election to the Presidency of the United States." He spent the following months campaigning tirelessly, focusing on the New Hampshire primary, the first of the season, and doing all the on-the-ground activities known to that state: greeting workers at factory gates before dawn, having neighborhood meetings in private homes, stopping at bowling alleys. He returned to Vietnam in December 1967 and made speeches and proposals on the subject, one of which presaged Nixon's eventual policy of Vietnamization. For a while he got an improved response from voters.
Two weeks before the March 12 primary, an internal poll showed Romney losing to Nixon by a six-to-one margin in New Hampshire. Rockefeller, seeing the poll result as well, publicly maintained his support for Romney but said he would be available for a draft; the statement made national headlines and embittered Romney (who would later claim it was Rockefeller's entry, and not the "brainwashing" remark, that doomed him). Seeing his cause was hopeless, Romney announced his withdrawal as a presidential candidate on February 28, 1968.
Nixon went on to gain the nomination. At the 1968 Republican National Convention in Miami Beach, Romney refused to release his delegates to Nixon, something Nixon did not forget. Romney finished a weak fifth, with only 50 votes on the roll call (44 of Michigan's 48, plus six from Utah). When party moderates and others expressed dismay at Nixon's choice of Spiro Agnew as his running mate, Romney's name was placed into nomination for vice president and pushed by several delegations. Romney said he did not initiate the move, but nor did he make an effort to oppose it; he lost to Agnew 1,119–186. Romney worked for Nixon's eventually successful campaign in the fall, which did earn him Nixon's gratitude.
Presidential historian Theodore H. White wrote that during his campaign Romney gave "the impression of an honest and decent man simply not cut out to be President of the United States." Governor Jim Rhodes of Ohio more memorably said, "Watching George Romney run for the presidency was like watching a duck try to make love to a football."
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
After the election, Romney was named Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The president-elect made the announcement as part of a nationally televised presentation of his new cabinet on December 11, 1968. Nixon praised Romney for his "missionary zeal" and said that he would also be tasked with mobilizing volunteer organizations to fight poverty and disease within the United States. In actuality, Nixon distrusted Romney politically, and appointed him to a liberally-oriented, low-profile federal agency partly to appease Republican moderates and partly to reduce Romney's potential to challenge for the 1972 Republican presidential nomination. Romney was confirmed by the Senate without opposition on January 20, 1969, the day of Nixon's inauguration, and was sworn into office on January 22, with Nixon presiding. Romney resigned as Governor of Michigan that same day, and was succeeded by Lieutenant Governor William G. Milliken. (Milliken continued Romney's model of downplaying party label and ideology, and Republicans held onto the governorship for three more terms until 1983 despite Michigan being one of the nation's most blue-collar states.)
As secretary, Romney conducted the first reorganization of the department since its 1966 creation. His November 1969 plan brought programs with similar functions together under unified, policy-based administration at the Washington level, and created two new assistant secretary positions. At the same time, he increased the number of regional and area offices and decentralized program operations and locality-based decisions to them.
The Fair Housing Act of 1968 mandated a federal commitment towards housing desegregation, and required HUD to orient its programs in this direction. Romney, filled with moral passion, wanted to address the widening economic and geographic gulf between whites and blacks by moving blacks out of inner city ghettos and into suburbs. Romney proposed an open housing scheme to facilitate desegregation, dubbed "Open Communities"; HUD planned it for many months without keeping Nixon informed. Once made public, local reaction was often hostile. This included Warren, Michigan, a blue-collar suburb of Detroit where many blacks worked but could not live due to the zoning practices, refusals, and intimidatory actions of white property owners, many of whom had come there from the city as part of white flight. HUD made Warren a prime target for Open Communities enforcement and threatened to halt all federal assistance to the town unless it took a series of actions to end racial discrimination there; town officials said progress was being made and that their citizens resented forced integration. Romney rejected this response, partly because when he was governor, Warren residents had thrown rocks and garbage and yelled obscenities for days at a biracial couple who moved into town. Now the secretary said, "The youth of this nation, the minorities of this nation, the discriminated of this nation are not going to wait for 'nature to take its course.' What is really at issue here is responsibility – moral responsibility."
Romney visited Warren in July 1970, and emphasized that affirmative action rather than forced integration was all that HUD was demanding, but the local populace was not satisfied and Romney was jeered as a police escort took him away from the meeting place. Nixon saw what happened in Warren and had no interest in the Open Communities policy in general, remarking to domestic adviser John Ehrlichman that, "This country is not ready at this time for either forcibly integrated housing or forcibly integrated education." Open Communities also conflicted with Nixon's use of the Southern strategy and his own views on race. Romney was forced to back down on Warren and release federal monies to them unconditionally. When Black Jack, Missouri subsequently resisted a HUD-sponsored plan for desegregated lower- and middle-income housing, Romney appealed to U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell for Justice Department intervention. In September 1970, Mitchell refused and Romney's plan collapsed. Under Romney, HUD did put into place stricter racial guidelines in relation to new public housing projects, but overall administration implementation of the Fair Housing Act was lacking. Some of the responsibility lay with Romney's inattentiveness to gaining political backing for the policy, including the failure to rally natural allies such as the NAACP. Salisbury State University historian Dean J. Kotlowski writes that "No civil rights initiative developed on Nixon's watch was as sincerely devised or poorly executed as open communities."
Another of Romney's initiatives was "Operation Breakthrough", which was intended to increase the amount of housing available to the poor and which did have Nixon's initial support. Based on his automotive industry experience, Romney thought that the cost of housing could be significantly reduced if in-factory modular construction techniques were used. However, HUD officials saw it too as a means to spearhead desegregation; Romney said, "We've got to put an end to the idea of moving to suburban areas and living only among people of the same economic and social class". This aspect of the program brought about strong opposition at the local suburban level and lost support in the White House as well. Over half of HUD's research funds during this time were spent on Operation Breakthrough, and it was modestly successful in its building goals. It did not revolutionize home construction, and was phased out once Romney left HUD, but side effects of the program did lead to more modern and consistent building codes and to introduction of technological advances such as the smoke alarm.
Romney was largely outside the president's inner circle and had minimal influence within the Nixon administration. His intense, sometimes bombastic style of making bold advances and awkward pullbacks lacked adequate guile to succeed in Washington. He also failed to understand or circumvent Nixon's use of Ehrlichman and White House Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman as policy gatekeepers and the consequent de facto downgrading of cabinet officers. In early 1970, Nixon decided he wanted Romney out. Nixon, who hated having to fire people and was, as Ehrlichman later described, "notoriously inadept" at it, instead hatched a plot to get Romney to run in the 1970 U.S. Senate race in Michigan. Wife Lenore Romney ended up running instead, losing badly to incumbent Democrat Philip A. Hart. In late 1970, after opposition to Open Communities reached a peak, Nixon again decided that Romney should go. Still reluctant to dismiss him, Nixon tried to get Romney to resign by forcing him to capitulate on a series of policy issues. Romney surprised both Nixon and Haldeman by agreeing to back off his positions, and Nixon kept him on.
Romney spent much of the rest of his tenure as secretary implementing provisions of the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1970. Using conventional methods, HUD set records for the amount of construction of assisted housing for low and moderate income families. In early 1972, Romney oversaw demolition of the infamous Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis. In August 1972, Nixon announced Romney would inspect Hurricane Agnes flood damage in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, but neglected to tell Romney first. Much of the area lacked shelter six weeks after the storm, residents were angry, and Romney got into a three-way shouting match with Governor Milton J. Shapp and a local citizen's representative. Romney denounced Shapp's proposal that the federal government pay off the mortgages of victims as "unrealistic and demagogic", and the citizen representative angrily responded to Romney, "You don't give a damn whether we live or die." The confrontation received wide media attention and damaged Romney's public reputation. By now totally frustrated, Romney wanted to resign immediately, but Nixon, worried about the fallout to his 1972 re-election campaign, insisted that Romney stay on. Romney agreed, although he indicated to the press that he would leave eventually.
Romney finally did hand in his resignation on November 9, 1972, following Nixon's re-election. His leaving was announced on November 27, 1972, as part of the initial wave of departures from Nixon's first-term cabinet. Romney said he was unhappy with presidential candidates who declined to address "the real issues" facing the nation for fear they would lose votes, and said he would form a new national citizens' organization that would attempt to enlighten the public on the most vital topics. He added that he would stay on as secretary until his successor could be appointed and confirmed, and did stay until Nixon's second inauguration on January 20, 1973. Upon his departure Romney said he looked forward "with great enthusiasm" to his return to private life.
The Boston Globe later termed Romney's conflicts with Nixon a matter that "played out with Shakespearean drama". Despite all the setbacks and frustrations, University at Buffalo political scientist Charles M. Lamb concluded that Romney pressed harder to achieve suburban integration than any prominent federal official from the 1970s through the 1990s.
Public service and volunteerism
Romney was known as an advocate of public service, and volunteerism was a passion of his. At the first meeting of the National Center for Voluntary Action, on February 20, 1970, he said:
Americans have four basic ways of solving problems that are too big for individuals to handle by themselves. One is through the federal government. A second is through state governments and the local governments that the states create. The third is through the private sector – the economic sector that includes business, agriculture, and labor. The fourth method is the independent sector – the voluntary, cooperative action of free individuals and independent association. Voluntary action is the most powerful of these, because it is uniquely capable of stirring the people themselves and involving their enthusiastic energies, because it is their own – voluntary action is the people's action. ... As Woodrow Wilson said, "The most powerful force on earth is the spontaneous cooperation of a free people." Individualism makes cooperation worthwhile – but cooperation makes freedom possible.
In 1974, Romney became founding chair of the National Volunteer Center, which promoted volunteerism; it would later merge with President George H. W. Bush's Points of Light Foundation.
The Governor George Romney Lifetime Achievement Award is given annually in Michigan, to recognize citizens who have demonstrated a commitment to community involvement and volunteer service throughout their lifetimes.
For much of the next two decades, Romney was out of the public eye. Within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints he was prominent, serving as patriarch of the Bloomfield Hills Stake and holding the office of regional representative of the Twelve. As part of a longtime habit of playing golf daily, he concocted a "compact 18" format in which he played three balls on each of six holes. In 1987, he held a four-generation extended family reunion in Washington, where he showed the places and recounted the events of his life which had occurred there.
He re-emerged to the general public in 1994 when he campaigned for his son, Mitt Romney, during the younger Romney's unsuccessful bid to unseat Senator Edward M. Kennedy in the 1994 U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts. Romney had urged Mitt to enter the race and moved into his son's house for its duration, serving as an unofficial advisor. That same year, Ronna Romney, Romney's ex-daughter-in-law (formerly married to G. Scott Romney), decided to seek the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate from Michigan. While Mitt and G. Scott endorsed Ronna Romney, George Romney had endorsed her opponent and the eventual winner, Spencer Abraham, during the previous year when Ronna was considering a run but had not yet announced. A family spokesperson said that George Romney had endorsed Abraham before knowing Ronna Romney would run and could not go back on his word, although he did refrain from personally campaigning on behalf of Abraham.
On July 26, 1995, Romney died of a heart attack at the age of eighty-eight while he was exercising on his treadmill at his home in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan; he was discovered by his wife Lenore but it was too late to save him. He was buried at the Fairview Cemetery in Brighton, Michigan. In addition to his wife and children, Romney was survived by 23 grandchildren and 33 great-grandchildren.
The building housing the main offices of the Governor of Michigan in Lansing is known as the George W. Romney Building following a 1997 renaming. The George W. Romney Institute of Public Management in the Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University, so named in 1998, honors the legacy left by Romney. Its mission is to develop people of high character who are committed to service, management, and leadership in the public sector and in non-profit organizations throughout the world.
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^ "Governor Granholm Honors 91-Year-Old Volunteer Hero". Michigan Community Service Committee. 2003. Retrieved October 21, 2009.
^ Glad, Cindy (Summer 2007). "George Romney: Committed to Service". Marriott School of Management.
^ Rimer, Sara (September 29, 1994). "Religion Is Latest Volatile Issue to Ignite Kennedy Contest". The New York Times: p. A22.
^ Cooper, Michael (November 6, 1994). "Massachusetts The Last Weekend: Senate Races Where the Battle Has Been Intense; Romney Eclectic In Final Sprint". The New York Times: p. 26.
^ Martelle, Scott (December 25, 2007). "Romney's running mate - His father, an admired public servant undone by an offhand comment, is both a role model and cautionary example". Los Angeles Times.
^ a b c Phillips, Frank (July 26, 1994). "Romney to stump for former in-law His father backs rival Mich. hopeful" (fee required). The Boston Globe: p. 19.
^ a b Beiler, David (October 1994). "Abraham vs. Romney" (fee required). Campaigns and Elections.
^ "Buildings Renamed G. Mennen Williams Building And George W. Romney Building - Mich. Comp. Laws Section 19.132". onecle.com. Retrieved October 22, 2009.
^ "The Romney Building Renovation". Hobbs + Black Architects. Retrieved October 22, 2009.
^ a b "About the Romney Institute". Marriott School of Management. Retrieved June 14, 2009.
Gaskell Romney (I19)
Birth 22 September 1871 28 229 -- St. George, Washington, Utah
Death 7 March 1955 (Age 83) -- Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah
Anna Amelia Pratt (I20)
Birth 6 May 1876 29 21 -- Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah
Death 4 February 1926 (Age 49) -- Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, UT
Family with Lenore Lafount -
George Wilcken Romney (I8)
Birth 8 July 1907 35 31 -- Dublan, Galeana, Chihua, Mexico
Death 26 July 1995 (Age 88) -- Bloomfield Hills, Oakland, Michigan
Lenore Lafount (I9)
Birth 9 November 1908 28 26 -- Logan, Cache, Utah
Death 7 July 1998 (Age 89) -- Royal Oak, , Michigan
Marriage: 2 July 1931 -- Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah
George W. Romney, Governor of Michigan's Timeline
July 8, 1907
Colonia Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico
July 2, 1931
Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah, United States
March 12, 1947
Detroit, Wayne, MI, USA
July 26, 1995
Bloomfield Hills, Oakland, MI, USA