A liberal Democrat at the Republican National Convention

Jane C. Edmonds, a senior fellow in the College of Professional Studies, proudly identifies herself as a liberal Democrat, which is why she puzzled so many friends and colleagues by not only supporting former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the GOP’s nominee for president, but by speaking out in support of him at last week’s Republican National Convention.

“I know I may face criticism for being at the RNC, but what I want to say, ‘This is America, we should be able to make up our minds and support someone on our own,” said Edmonds, who served in the administrations of governors Romney and Michael Dukakis, now a Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Northeastern. “I felt privileged to be at RNC and speak from my heart, saying what I believe.”

In her speech on Thursday, Edmonds described Romney to delegates as a dedicated leader who worked hard to increase the number of women in state government.

“When I first met Gov. Romney, I was struck by his humanity, his grace, his kind manner,” she said, describing her interview ahead of being named the state Secretary of Workforce Development. “I could tell immediately just by our interaction that he is the real thing — authentic. He struck me and now as honest, transparent and inclusive.”

Edmonds said delivering the speech was a true honor, but she described another event — a session on women in government and politics called “Unconventional Women” that drew participants from across the aisle — as an eye-opening opportunity to connect with people she may never have otherwise interacted with. (A similar session will be held at the Democratic National Convention this week in Charlotte, N.C.)

“Like most people, I think I have to work hard not to label any one group and paint with a broad brush,” Edmonds said. “One of those groups is the Tea Party; I don’t know if there is any one group whose views seem further away from what I believe. But it turns out that once you actually sit down and talk to people, you get a very different takeaway. You’re humbled knowing there are many viewpoints and ways to think about an issue, and soon you’re finding common ground with a group you considered yourself so diametrically opposed to.”

Those dialogues happened across the convention, she said, in the corridors of the Tampa Bay Times Forum, which hosted the event, and over meals in hotels and nearby restaurants.

“It was an opportunity to say, ‘Tell me more. Where are you really coming from?’” Edmonds said. “Being able to ask questions and have a conversation was a true joy for me. I came back thinking the experience had truly stretched my mind.”

Edmonds said she is confident that America can thrive under the leadership of whichever presidential candidate the public selects; what is more important, she says, is that the country — both its leaders and its citizens — works to become more open to dialogue, inclusiveness and an open exchange of ideas.

“There are some very hard divides along party lines,” Edmonds said. “I’ve been a Democrat all my life, and I’ve been in politics nearly as long. More than ever before, I’m seeing these divides that keep people from talking to each other. This idea of civil discourse may seem like an antiquated phrase, but it’s exactly what we need right now for our country.”