Romney's Utah summit urges post-partisan cooperation
Politics • Son says Mitt urged heavy hitters to use influence to tackle "Washington problem."
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Washington • Seven months after losing the election, Mitt Romney urged a gathering in Utah of the nation's political bigwigs and top business leaders to step past partisan bickering and discuss solutions to some of the nation's pressing problems.

In a closed-door forum this week in Park City, the former Republican presidential nominee listed the many concerns facing America — from its debt to its economic instability — and suggested to a bipartisan crowd that they use their influence to tackle them.

"He's kind of showing the way he would have led as president," son Josh Romney, a Utahn, told The Salt Lake Tribune after the event Friday. "It showed the kind of person my dad is and what kind of president he would have been, you know, [that] he would have got past the personal stuff, past the petty stuff and take the real issues head on."

The forum's speakers included some of the political classes' leading luminaries, including President Barack Obama's top adviser, David Axelrod, and several potential White House Republican contenders, such as Rep. Paul Ryan, Sen. Rand Paul, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, as well as Democratic Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.

The event was closed to the news media, though Josh Romney said there were about 200 attendees and a solid discussion of how folks from both sides of the aisle could find compromise.

"One of the great things that came from conference is that there are so many issues where we agree," Josh Romney said. "The goal of the conference is really to influence those certain issues and how to move those forward."

No further retreats are planned, but Josh Romney said the crowd — filled with successful business owners and political elite — could use its influence to keep the ideas flowing.

Josh Romney said he didn't hear the president's name mentioned once at the conference, and that his father wasn't trying to score political points but was attempting to influence the national dialogue.

"It's not a Democrat problem, not a Republican problem," Josh Romney said. "It's a Washington problem."

The potential 2016 presidential candidates kept their messages to specific issues, Josh Romney said, and made no political announcements.

Also attending the conference were the co-chairmen of a blue-ribbon commission that suggested several recommendations for the nation to dig itself out of a fiscal hole: Former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and ex-Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming.

David Bradford, the executive chairman of the electronic interview company HireVue, posted to Facebook from the event that Bowles leveled with the crowd about the serious challenges facing the United States.

"I don't care if you are a Republican or Democrat — we need to fix our long-term fiscal problem," Bowles said, according to Bradford. "We don't have a plan; we don't have a budget; we are running the largest financial system in the world on a month-to-month basis."

"Remarkable," Bradford added. "Everyone in America needs to hear his message."

The event, sponsored by Tagg Romney's venture capital firm, Solamere Capital LLC, cost attendees $5,000, though Romney aides noted that the cost simply paid for the space and food and was not tied to any political cause.

Mitt Romney held a similar event in Park City last year during the height of his presidential race, drawing big donors and top advisers to a retreat to discuss political strategy.

tburr@sltrib.com