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I'm a black Republican, and I'm not alone


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diversity-success-at-cpac-gop-minoritiesUK Guardian:

Oh, the irony. This year's Conservative Political Action Conference has more diverse conservatives than ever speaking and all the mainstream media can do is focus on who's not attending. Let's get this out of the way. CPAC is a private organization and reserves the right to invite whom they want to speak.

The purpose of the conference each year is to gather conservatives from all spectrums who believe in the principles of free markets, small government and individual success and responsibility. What's great about CPAC is that its guests cover the bookends of conservatism, from Sarah Palin and the Tea Party to Jeb Bush and the establishment. You never know what's going to happen at CPAC and that's why conservatives love it – it's not a meeting driven by Washington insiders.

As it celebrates its 40th anniversary, what's new about CPAC this year is its rich diversity, not who's not attending. A young black woman, Chelsy Smith of Cincinnati, told me she that she had noticed a lot more black conservatives attending CPAC, and that "It makes you feel like it's okay to be a Republican."

Unlike the Republican National Committee and other right-leaning organizations talking about diversity, CPAC understood what Mitt Romney's presidential loss meant and put words into action. It's not about changing the conservative message.

CPAC realized, as smart conservatives do, that we need different messengers selling the face of conservatism. Mitt Romney won almost 70% of the white vote but lost the election because he failed to win the minority vote. Obama won 93% of the black vote, 71% of the Hispanic vote and 55% of women's votes.

This year's CPAC highlights diversity among conservatives. According to the Hill, 20% of the 40-plus featured speakers are black. There are twice as many Hispanics and blacks speaking as there were in 2012 and a third more women.

A reporter recently asked me if CPAC should have more women speakers. I said no. CPAC's female speakers reflect the proportion of women elected to office in America, which are fewer than men. The point of CPAC is to be a step in the right direction.

As a black woman, would I like to see more women and black speakers? Of course, because I'm a black conservative woman. I'm sure Hispanics and whites would say the some thing. But I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to share the CPAC stage with so many dynamic black conservatives, like Mia Love, Dr Ben Carson, Oklahoma House speaker TJ Shannon, Sonnie Johnson, Senator Tim Scott and others.

CPAC isn't perfect. I attended a panel called "Conservative Inclusion: Promoting the Freedom Message to All Americans", moderated by Suhail Khan, a board member of the American Conservative Union. Mayor Mia Love, of Saratoga Springs, Utah, was the only woman scheduled to speak on the panel, but she didn't show. How can a panel focus on inclusion and not have one woman speak?

The all-male panelists, including Republican convert Artur Davis, talked of the need for Republicans to expand their "outreach" and take their message to all Americans, not just a select few. Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William County board of supervisors, spoke passionately about how he was elected twice by a majority black voter population because he bothers to build relationships with all voters.

But the most worrisome and perplexing comments came from Stephen Fong, chairman of the American Asian Caucus and former Mitt Romney campaign staffer. Fong said he used to think "outreach was an evil word" and didn't believe in it. Maybe, that's why Mitt Romney lost …

Fong said that somewhere along the way, he warmed up to the idea – then, he made an offensive remark: "if you do outreach, you better be ready to eat lots of spicy food." With people like Fong in charge of his minority outreach, it's clear why Mitt Romney lost the 2012 presidential election – but unclear why CPAC would have him talk on a panel about inclusion.

There is more work to be done for conservatives to appeal to minorities, and even CPAC, which has been better than most, exhibited moments where it seemed like conservatives still don't get it. But overall, CPAC 2013 turned out to be a vibrant, colorful and diverse conference.

It's should be a no-brainer: if you're trying to recruit more people of color to the conservative movement, you need to feature people who look like the vote you're trying to get. CPAC did that and did it in a big way.



Real diversity on display.

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