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Business Observer Friday, Mar. 7, 2014 4 years ago

Regional advocate

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Tina McCain Matte built her advocacy practice on bringing regional interests together on big issues like transportation.
by: Jean Gruss Contributing Writer

Twenty years ago, a Tampa developer asked Tina McCain Matte if she could organize a political fundraiser for an upstart candidate.

“I actually said I don't think so,” she laughs. “I'd never heard of him.”

The candidate was Jeb Bush, who was preparing his first run for Florida governor. And the developer was Al Hoffman, the entrepreneur who would transform WCI Communities into one of the largest homebuilding firms in the state and become a leading fundraiser for George W. Bush's presidential campaigns.

At an event she dubs her “coming out political party,” Matte organized her first campaign fundraiser for Jeb Bush in February 1994 at a private home in Feather Sound. The event was attended by his parents, former President H.W. Bush and first lady Barbara Bush. “I ended up doing 35 events for Jeb Bush for Governor,” she says.

Hoffman and Matte made a strong political-fundraising duo, and she eventually became director of marketing for WCI. Hoffman would prod executives to join a host committee with a fundraising goal and Matte would follow up to make sure they met those financial goals. “It was holding everyone accountable,” Matte says.

With extensive connections throughout state government formed through the Bush governorship, Matte gained insight on how the state's legislative and executive branches operate. Today, Matte is a partner in the Fort Myers-based marketing and public relations firm Gravina, Smith, Matte & Arnold.

Since she joined Gravina, Smith in 1999, she added public-policy advocacy to the firm, crafting effective legislative strategies for private-sector clients. “I've always considered myself a political junkie,” she says.

Matte's specialty is creating regional approaches to solving thorny legislative issues such as transportation improvements. For example, she shepherded an organization called the Southwest Florida Transportation Initiative in the booming 2000s. The organization secured millions of public dollars for the widening of Interstate 75, U.S. 41 and numerous arterial roads to accommodate population growth, opening up new corridors for development. “We got the region together,” she says.

“My advocacy work is related to messaging,” Matte says. That includes researching legislators who might back or oppose an issue, coaching executives on how to be effective, identifying who the right lobbyists might be to hire and devising a strategy that includes getting the word out to the public.

While she learned about politics with Hoffman, Matte says her approach to public policy is more like the one espoused by the late David Graham, the vice president of planning and development with developer Bonita Bay Group. Matte says Graham had a special ability to find common ground with opponents of development, removing obstacles that seemed insurmountable at first. The secret: “He just listened,” Matte says, citing his sincerity and consensus-building skills. “I've taken that playbook and used it where I can,” she says.

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