Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, made history this week by voting to convict President Donald Trump, a member of his own party, on one of two articles of impeachment. He was the only member of the Republican party to vote to convict the president — and that decision is making waves throughout the state.
KUER’s Caroline Ballard joined reporters Nicole Nixon and Sonja Hutson at the Utah State Capitol press room to help explain this story and more in the week’s political news.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Caroline Ballard: How did Senator Romney explain why he made the decision to convict President Trump on abuse of power?
Nicole Nixon: He got pretty emotional, actually. He started talking about his faith as a devout latter-day saint. He also mentioned the oath he took as a Senate juror to exercise impartial justice in the trial.
I take an oath before God as enormously consequential. I knew from the outset that being tasked with judging the president, the leader of my own party, would be the most difficult decision I have ever faced. I was not wrong. — Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah
NN: Of course, the next day at the National Prayer Breakfast, Trump attacked Romney for that. Trump said he doesn't like people using their faith as an excuse, and he accused Romney of using his religion as a crutch.
CB: Utah is a heavily Republican state, but one that has had a complicated relationship with President Trump. How have Utahns been reacting to this?
Sonja Hutson: So Romney's approval rating throughout the impeachment process has really tanked. It's gone from 46% to 36%, according to a new poll out by Utah Policy and Y2 Analytics.
The author of a bill to allow for recall elections of U.S. senators got a ton of calls about his bill after Romney's impeachment vote, although he says it's not connected to Romney in any way.
There's also a resolution in the works from state Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, to censure Romney for his vote and [which] also voiced support for the president.
Romney visited Utah's Capitol the day after his vote in a surprise visit, and he met with legislative leaders. He slipped through some back hallways before we could talk to him, but we did hear from legislative leaders about what that conversation was like. And they took the opportunity to say they were disappointed in Romney's vote and really hit home how much they support the president.
We support the president and the policies and the good that he's done. — Sen. Don Ipson, R-St. George
This has been probably the most responsive White House we've had in decades. — House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Salt Lake City
SH: There seems to be more appetite for the censure resolution in the state House here. Senate leadership really wants to leave impeachment and the idea of censure behind, and focus on the work they have to get done in this very short legislative session.
CB: Romney really did dominate the news this week, but, as you said, it's a short session. What other interesting bills have we seen?
NN: There is a bill that came out earlier this week by Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork. She dropped a bill that would reduce penalties for practicing polygamy.
Polygamy is illegal, but it's not something that's prosecuted very often. It is a felony, but Henderson wants to lower that to an infraction for consenting adults in polygamous relationships, though it would remain a felony for forced or coerced marriages.
SH: We also saw a bill come out this week from Rep. Suzanne Harrison,*, D-Draper, which would place limits on campaign contributions and those two-year limits, so one campaign cycle, they run from $5,000 for a school board candidate, to $40,000 for a political action committee.
CB: We also had some pretty big 2020 election news drop earlier today. Can you tell me about that?
NN: Jon Huntsman, a gubernatorial candidate and former governor who is running for a third term, announced his running mate today: Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi. She's the first female mayor of Provo. He said that he picked her because he thinks that she brings an important local perspective to his administration.
CB: This is also reporter Nicole Nixon's very last day here at KUER. So we will unfortunately be saying farewell to her. She's moving on to cover the California legislature. Nicole, it's been such a pleasure to have you reporting on the Capitol and on politics for these many years.
Caroline Ballard hosts All Things Considered at KUER. Follow her on Twitter @cballardnews
Nicole Nixon covers politics for KUER. Follow her on Twitter @_Nixo
Sonja Hutson covers politics for KUER. Follow her on Twitter @SonjaHutson