Credit union advocacy leaders are out in force in Tampa, Fla. this week for the Republican National Convention, but industry events will happen outside the walls of the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
However, two credit union CEOs will be attending the official convention proceedings inside the great hall: Art Wood, president/CEO of the $266 Railroad & Industrial FCU of Tampa, and his wife, Mary Ott Wood, president/CEO of the $80 million Florida West Coast Credit Union of Brandon, Fla., and chair of the League of Southeastern Credit Unions.
MORE convention coverage:
Ann Romney to Cut Ribbon at Playground Project
Isaac Pushes Convention Back a Day
The two scored coveted passes to the main event not because of their credit union involvement, but because they are active in local Republican politics. In fact, Art Wood will serve as an alternate delegate thanks to his status as chairman of the Hillsborough County Republican Party, one of the largest in Florida and the country.
The Woods became politically active during the Clinton Administration.
“I got involved because I couldn’t stand what was happening, and I told myself, ‘well, if you don’t like it, do something about it’,” Art Wood said.
What started out as waving signs supporting candidates on busy street corners during rush hour traffic evolved into hosting fundraising events in their home for congressional candidates, and eventually, the exclusivity of attending the RNC.
The couple said their political views aren’t something they talk up at work, in the board room, or among members. However, they do use the business contacts they make in politics to benefit their credit unions when appropriate, and educate candidates and elected officials about the credit union difference.
“I’m very concerned about my credit union’s reputation so have to be ultra-cautious about what I say as the Republican county chair,” Art Wood said. “But, the benefits far outweigh the risks.”
Politics are a common denominator for businessmen, he said, and it presents an opportunity to talk credit unions to high-level officials with whom he wouldn’t ordinarily get face time.
Mary Wood said despite the potential for controversy, political involvement is part of a credit union’s CEO job description.
“Relationship building is what it’s all about, and it can’t happen by making just one trip to GAC,” she said. “I love Hike the Hill events, but I wish people would go home and work for the candidate of their choice. They may not even be credit union friendly, but you can groom them that way.”
The couple hesitated to say whether credit union officials should support Republican nominee Mitt Romney over President Barack Obama. However, both agreed that politics aside, Romney would be more likely to reduce the compliance burden that is increasingly difficult for credit unions to bear.
“If I were an independent, as a credit union CEO I would have to look at the number one thing Romney brings to the table and that’s fewer regulations,” Mary Wood said. “I think we’ve gone over the top with the Obama Administration and the CFPB.”