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SHRM Events Fill the DNC Calendar
Policy Conversations Highlight Race, Diversity Issues

By Bill Leonard  9/5/2012
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The first full day of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., was a busy one for executives from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). SHRM sponsored two in-depth policy discussions on the afternoon of Sept. 4, 2012, that kept SHRM President and CEO Hank Jackson on the move. First he made introductory comments for a town hall event held by IMPACT, a Washington, D.C.-based political activism group. Moments later, Jackson welcomed journalists and convention delegates to a policy briefing held by The National Journal and The Atlantic magazines.

“Today, as you examine ways to navigate the political process and influence public policy, I would suggest you keep special focus on workforce issues,” Jackson told attendees of the IMPACT town hall. “The important decision that voters have to make in November is being shaped more than anything else by the economy and by issues surrounding the American workforce.”

The town hall meeting started the busy afternoon in a lively fashion with a panel discussion on the diversity issues at the core of this year’s presidential election. The panel’s first topic focused on the notion that the election of Barack Obama in 2008 marked what some have called the start of a “post-racial era” in the United States.

All the panelists agreed that “post-racial” was not an accurate term, and that, while progress has been made in race relations, much still needs to be done. Several panelists stated the opinion that a post-racial society was not possible and that race is an indelible part of person’s identity

“Race is part of how we all identify ourselves and define our heritage,” said Terry Bellamy, mayor of Asheville, N.C., and one of the panelists. “We are all different, but when you get right down to it we all really want the same things. Instead of focusing on the differences, we should focus on our similarities and work toward common goals. If we can do that, then we can achieve anything.”

The growing diversity of the American electorate also was a hot topic at the policy briefing of The National Journal and The Alantic.  A panel discussion moderated by Ron Brownstein, editorial director for The National Journal, focused on the fact that this could be the first election in U.S. history in which a candidate receives more than 55 percent of votes cast by white voters, but still loses the election. Brownstein explained that this is a scenario Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney could face.

Brownstein said that the growing diversity of the American populace is having a profound effect on the politics and positions of both major parties. The panelists stated that if Romney does receive more than 55 percent of the white vote and still loses, then the Republicans will need to reassess their policies and platforms and search for ways to attract a more diverse base.

“If Romney loses, then the Republicans will have to look long and hard at the changing demographics and how their policies and platforms must appeal to a more diverse electorate,” Brownstein said.

The panelists agreed with Brownstein’s assessment and commended him for his insights on the issue.

“Ron Brownstein is the best political writer there is when it comes to breaking down and explaining the effect of demographics,” said panelist David Gergen, a political analyst and commentator for CNN.

Brownstein asked the panelists if they thought the election would bring real change to Washington, D.C., and break the political gridlock that has kept the Congress from passing a budget and implementing substantive changes to reduce the federal deficit and pay down the government’s massive debt load.

When asked to assess the possible effect the election will have on Capitol Hill, Gergen said that he considers himself “a short-term pessimist” and “a long-term optimist.”

“The next two years, I believe we will see much of the same, but in the long-term I believe the two sides will find ways to work together,” Gergen said. “But for the immediate future, it will be more kicking the can down the road.”

Bill Leonard is senior writer for SHRM.

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