TAMPA, Fla. (8/29/12)--With 50,000 to 100,000 predicted to attend events here this week--and with 2,286 of them convention delegates and an equal number of alternates--credit unions are working a very crowded scene to see, be seen and be heard at events organized by and for the Republican National Convention (RNC).
Arthur Wood and Mary Wood (left) pose with Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) and Cindy Ross. (CUNA Photo)
Among them are Arthur Wood and Mary Wood, a husband-wife team very engaged in the credit union movement and in the political scene. For the Woods, that means the Republican political scene. In fact, Art Wood, along with being president/CEO of Railroad & Industrial FCU here, is also chairman of the Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee.
Mary, in addition to being involved along with Art in political campaigning--including fundraising--is president/CEO of Florida West Coast CU, as well as a member of the board of the League of Southeastern Credit Unions. She also serves on a number of credit union committees, such as the Credit Union National Association's (CUNA's) Government Affairs Committee.
Art this week is an alternate delegate for his congressional district. He and Mary, shortly in advance of this week's activities, talked to CUNA's News Now
about their strong belief in political activism and how their two worlds--Republican politics and the credit union movement--do and do not intersect.
For the Woods, politics is personal: They back candidates they regard as principled conservatives. The Woods said they decided to get involved when they were dismayed with the direction of the Clinton administration. "That was our 'off-the-couch' moment," remembers Art, "We decided we could no longer sit on the sidelines."
The Woods said that as they became more and more politically involved, they realized that what they do in their business lives--running credit unions--mirrors the skills needed to run a campaign.
They started out slowly and just kept building their involvement, eventually even to include fundraising--a job they say few want to take on. Mary is even volunteer treasurer to some campaigns.
By rolling up their sleeves, the Woods say, they build important relationships and they build credibility and trust.
"Being politically engaged gives you a chance to be involved with high-level people that we might not be able to meet with if we were 'just' credit union people.
"Our political involvement is huge for access on credit unions' issues--on both federal and state levels. It gets me on the list to meet with the lawmaker," Art says.
Mary concurs. "Unless you have worked hard for the candidate, it can be hard to get your foot in the door."
Further, she says, "Art and I, on a personal level, feel connected to these candidates. And we feel fortunate to be connected to credit unions. Our involvements help both sides of the equation."
When appropriate, the Woods talk to the people they meet, including candidates, about credit union membership. "And it is important to us that a candidate be well-educated about credit unions. We help with that," Mary says with a smile in her voice.
The Woods also emphasize that as they work on a campaign, they are working alongside people with hopes for jobs with the candidates. With the candidate's success comes relationships with high-level staff members.
But there can be conflicts, too. On both sides of the equation, there can be times that the "other life" has to stay in the background.
Now about being an alternate delegate at this year's RNC? Art said he just wanted to do that for the experience.
"Despite our political involvement, I'm not normally a political animal," Art says. "But this was in our backyard. It was a one-time opportunity."