The motto of the Republican Convention in Tampa last week was “We Built It.” Speakers repeated the line (sometimes to excess), videos were played on the theme, signs and banners lined the convention center. By the end of the week, nobody present in Tampa could be unaware that during a speech earlier this year, President Obama claimed that small business owners didn’t build their businesses alone.
The GOP highlighted several speakers during the week that had inspiring stories of building small businesses out of nothing, who risked what little they had to build companies that would become employers. One speaker, Sher Valenzuela, appeared in the early evening on Tuesday and set the tone for the rest of the convention. Valenzuela and her husband (a second-generation Mexican-American), devastated by their son’s autism diagnosis, started a business in order to pay for his care.
One of the purposes of conventions is to highlight impressive political talent displayed by state-level officials who may rise to the top in years to come—the ur-example of this being, of course, State Senator Barack Obama, whose 2004 speech at the Democratic convention was even more important to his eventual election in 2008 than his Senate victory later that year. Tonight, the Republican party unveiled two potent new personalities, Mia Love and Sher Valenzuela. Love, who is 36 years old and the child of Haitian immigrants, is the mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah and a candidate for Congress. Valenzuela is the owner of a small business running for lieutenant governor of Delaware.
Love’s talk was an upbeat tribute to the United States, lively and biting and cheerful. Valenzuela’s was without question the first really dynamic speech of the convention—combining a story about starting her business with her husband to find the funds to pay for the education of their autistic child (now a college student) and then connecting that experience with the regulatory nightmare that besets those who want to start and maintain businesses. Delaware is an odd state for Republicans, but if Valenzuela can win her office and find a way to rise higher, she is exactly what the Republican party will need over the coming decades—an intelligent, well-spoken, resourceful politician who can speak with particular clarity to Hispanics and women.