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Main Street employers, like those operating convenience stores and other retail outlets across the country, must be somewhat encouraged by what they've seen so far in the Republican primary contest to unseat President Obama next November. After all, given the state of the present economy and the dubious outlook for the foreseeable future, job creation, taxes, spending and even government regulation are taking the lion's share of the spotlight -- so much in fact that one might forget that we are still at war on two fronts with little end in sight.
Having jobs and the economy at the center of the conversation is good for store owners, right? It puts added attention on the tough task of running a small business in this country and the increasing pressure on employers. How can that be a bad thing? Well, first of all it's not, of course. It's a great thing but the problem is that the conversation going on now will likely yield little if any policy outcomes that will affect small employers anytime soon. That's because in large part we are talking about economic issues and not employment issues. What small employers really need is for the candidates to be talking about issues that affect the everyday running of a business and the role employers will play in rebuilding the economy -- i.e. making it easier to hire workers and grow businesses.
To date, employers, large and small, are lagging for attention in this crowded field. The Tea Party, with all its anti-corporate fervor, is the darling of this ball so far. Just witness the candidates' strong support for tough new immigration laws like the one passed in Arizona earlier this year. References to these types of bills (which are currently sweeping traditionally "red" states, especially in the South) are real crowd pleasers at debates, rallies and other forums. Nothing stokes the emotions like the thought of countless hordes of "illegals" pouring across the border. The problem is these new laws are focused on enforcement and employer sanctions and essentially frame the employer -- not the worker -- as the culprit in the problem and put the onus of fixing the system on their backs. The candidates know this as well, but, like I said, this is a tea party, not a Chamber event. So who is going to stand up for employers? Maybe someone who is not even in the race (at least not yet).
As primary voters continue to appear ambivalent toward their choices, it seems each week brings us the specter of another looming candidacy that hypothetically will change the dynamics of the race. The latest flavor of the week was the imagined candidacy of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie who had repeatedly stated publicly that he would not run. Hailing from the heart of the Rust Belt, Christie is a guy who has seen firsthand the lasting contribution that organized labor has made to New Jersey's economy over the last 40 years (and the subsequent boom to China's). Incredibly, despite the unions' stranglehold on the New Jersey political process, he had the guts to speak the truth to their power and was elected, believe it or not. He rightly views the unions as an impediment to economic growth and job creation and since taking office, has gone to war with the teachers unions as well as the public employees unions. In fact, he was almost booed off the stage at a recent firefighter union meeting. Christie told the crowd that he understood their anxieties about the future, but asked them this question: "Why are you booing the first guy who came into the room and actually told you the truth?"
Why haven't the other candidates been willing to call them out as well? As the Obama Administration and the unions try to manipulate the NLRB and use the regulatory process to backdoor an agenda they couldn't pass in Congress (such as card check), the candidates need to step up and shed light on the fact that no serious person could talk about helping employers create jobs and simultaneously encourage unionization. That is the tough talk needed if you want to help employers right now. Gov. Christie has announced he won't run but a Christie-type candidacy could go a long way toward re-focusing the rhetoric from the impact of a tough economy to empowering employers and their ability to hire and grow. He knows for a fact that the difference may be subtle, but it's real.
Joe Kefauver is managing partner of Parquet Public Affairs, a national issue management, communications, government relations and reputation assurance firm that specializes in service sector industries. Parquet's clients include Fortune 500 corporations, trade associations, regional businesses and non-profit organizations. For more information, go to www.ParquetPA.com.
Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.