“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.