By Tony Les
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney stood at The Des Moines Register's Iowa State Fair soapbox Thursday and declared that he is the presidential candidate best suited to lead the country back to prosperity.
Romney touted his decades of experience as an executive in financial firms. He noted that he served just one term as governor.
"It was a terrific experience, but I didn't inhale politics. I'm still a business guy and a private citizen."
CROWD: Several hundred people, including many who were supportive and a few who angrily yelled questions indicating they had liberal outlooks.
OTHER ISSUES: He said that to encourage businesses to add jobs, the country needs low taxes, streamlined regulations and strong trade agreements with other countries. He pledged his love for the Constitution and all its amendments, including the 10th, which reserves many powers for the states instead of the federal government. He accused President Barack Obama of violating that amendment with the federal health reform law pushed through last year. "That's why it's going to be repealed on Day One of my administration if I'm lucky enough to become president," he said.
QUOTE: "It's time in America to tell people the truth. We have to earn what we spend. We can't spend more than we earn year after year after year."
REACTION: Some of the biggest applause came when Romney told hecklers they should "vote for somebody who wants to raise taxes."
An activist group that heckled Mitt Romney at the Iowa State Fair Thursday said it intends to give similar treatment to other Republican candidates and to President Barack Obama.
Romney was confronted by several members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, which espouses liberal causes.
Several members shouted angry questions at Romney as he spoke at The Des Moines Register's soapbox at the fair. Most of the questions had to do with how Romney would protect Social Security and Medicare from being cut during budget-balancing talks.
David Goodner, an organizer for the group, said people shouldn't be surprised by the bitter tone of the questions. "People are pissed off" about attempts to privatize or reduce benefits from Medicare and Social Security, he said. "We were exercising our First Amendment rights. Democracy is a two-way conversation."
Goodner said the group intends to use similar tactics at campaign appearances by other Republican candidates, and by Obama, who has agreed to put entitlement programs on the table during deficit talks.
The main heckler at Thursday's event was Joe Fagan, 71, of Des Moines, a former Catholic priest and a retired activist for the community group.
Fagan said afterward that both political parties are engaging in "garbage talk" about Social Security and Medicare cuts, which he said would add terrible burdens to middle-class and lower-class Americans. He made no apologies for the angry edge to his questions.
"You know what?" he asked. "The tone of what they're talking about doing is more important than the tone of my voice."