As Massachusetts governor, Romney was often away
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BOSTON -- When the ceiling collapsed in this city's Big Dig tunnel, Gov. Mitt Romney was at his vacation home in New Hampshire. When the Bush administration warned that the nation was at high risk of a terror attack in December 2003, he was at his Utah retreat. And for much of the time the Legislature was negotiating changes to his landmark health care bill, he was on the road.
During Mr. Romney's four-year term as governor of Massachusetts, he cumulatively spent more than a year -- part or all of 417 days -- out of the state, according to a review of his schedule and other records. More than 70 percent of that time was spent on personal or political trips unrelated to his job, a New York Times analysis found.
Mr. Romney, now the Republican presidential nominee, took lengthy vacations and weekend getaways. But much of his travel was to lay the groundwork for the presidential ambitions he would pursue in the 2008 election, two years after leaving office.
During his last year as governor, he was largely an absentee chief executive. In October 2006, for example, he was out of the state all or part of 25 days. His public schedules said he was spending "personal time in Utah" or "attending political events" in California, Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, Texas and Wisconsin. He went to a fundraiser on Oct. 6 in Georgia for the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, stumped on Oct. 12 for Lynn Swann in his unsuccessful bid to unseat then-Gov. Ed Rendell in Pennsylvania and appeared on Oct. 31 in Idaho on behalf of another candidate. In December, his last month in office, he took a swing through Asia before vacationing in Utah.
No one points to any lapses from his absences. But some former constituents, particularly Democrats, say Mr. Romney's travels suggest that he was more interested in attaining the governor's post than in doing the job. They argue that his focus on his political rise limited his achievements, and they point to President Barack Obama's double-digit lead in polls in Massachusetts as evidence of a bad taste left by Mr. Romney's single term.
"I thought he gave up on his job," said Phil Johnston, the chairman of the state Democratic Party while Mr. Romney was in office. "Romney was quite popular at the beginning of his tenure. The relationship between him and the Massachusetts electorate really soured."
But Republicans and Mr. Romney's campaign said his travels had no bearing on his job performance. Mr. Romney defended his absences while he was in office, once saying, according to The Boston Herald, "Even when you are on vacation, when you've been elected as governor, you keep thinking and working on issues that are important to you."
Certainly, Mr. Romney was not the first Massachusetts governor with his eye on another prize. Two of his Republican predecessors resigned for ambassadorships, though one of them, William Weld, had his appointment as the envoy to Mexico blocked in the Senate. And much of Michael Dukakis' third term, when he was the Democratic presidential nominee, was spent on the road.
Like Mr. Dukakis, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton ran for president as sitting governors and faced grousing about their time on the campaign trail. (As president, Mr. Bush also drew criticism for his lengthy summer vacations at his Texas ranch.)
Some politicians, though, are wary of leaving home. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, who has been talked about as a potential presidential candidate in 2016, rarely ventures out of state and vacations in the Hamptons or the Adirondacks.
Mr. Obama spent about two weeks on Martha's Vineyard during each of the first three years of his term, but not this year. A trip to Hawaii around Christmas has also been a routine.
Much of Mr. Romney's time on the road when he was governor was spent barnstorming the nation -- traveling to at least 38 states -- as he positioned himself for his first presidential run. He also sought to build up his foreign policy credentials, visiting Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as well as Greece, the Vatican, China, Japan and South Korea. He attended fundraisers for local legislators in swing states like Iowa and Michigan and raised money nationwide for his political action committee.
Some travel to Washington, D.C., was tied to state business. He attended meetings of the National Governors Association, lobbied Pentagon officials to keep a military base open and met with White House officials about domestic security and health care policy.
But it was not uncommon for Mr. Romney to spend a week or more vacationing. During the summer, he frequently spent weekends at his retreat on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire, about two hours north of Boston, and in 2005 he stayed for almost all of a two-week stretch. He took a weeklong vacation to the Virgin Islands at the end of 2004 and typically spent well over a week during the Christmas holidays at his Utah home, which he has since sold. He was a regular attendee at Super Bowls.
The Times compiled an itinerary of Mr. Romney's travels by analyzing the governor's public schedules, reviewing news accounts of his travels and the responses to public records requests made during his time in office by news organizations -- including The Boston Globe, The Herald and The Associated Press -- that were available at the Massachusetts State Archives. The figure is probably higher than 417 days because Mr. Romney's vacations were often not recorded on his public schedules.
First Published October 14, 2012 12:00 am