Cristine M. Almeida brings many perspectives to client advocacy at Almeida Public Affairs — that of a first-generation Cuban American, a woman, an attorney, a lobbyist, an entrepreneur. She has achieved a number of significant victories during her public affairs career. Among them, she helped win the Clean Water, Land and Legacy constitutional amendment campaign in 2008 and was instrumental in defeating the same-sex marriage ban constitutional amendment in 2012. She has also been a key advisor on many statewide and legislative candidate campaigns. With a reputation for authentic representation and plain dealing, she facilitates communication between clients and government representatives to help solve problems and drive change.
Almeida’s family fled Cuba amid the turmoil of the Communist Revolution, and she is the only member of her family born on American soil. Raised on a farm in rural Wisconsin, she was an avid young reader with a keen interest in language and political topics. She responded well to her parents’ urging to higher education, and it was her early ambition to achieve an advanced degree. After completing her undergraduate education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she was hired for a staff position at the Wisconsin Legislature. She had only to spend a few days among those bustling policymakers to know that she was in her element.
“I found a wonderful intersection of human interaction, politics, language, law and the writing and creation of policy,” she says.
In 1990, Almeida relocated to Minnesota, where she worked at the Minnesota Senate and eventually graduated from William Mitchell College of Law. She spent a total of 10 years working at two prominent Twin Cities law firms. “I learned from some outstanding lawyers about the value of top-notch client service, how to manage complex issues and personalities, and the importance of providing honest, ethical representation.”
Almeida returned to the Minnesota Senate a second time to serve as a chief of staff, and then in 2006 founded Almeida Public Affairs, Inc. It was the natural next step for her, an opportunity to use her experience and discerning mind in service to others. Over the past 15 years, she has grown her practice from a solo endeavor to a firm of five. She and her team represent a wide range of private sector clients, including corporations, trade associations and nonprofit organizations.
“We are a little different from a standard lobbying shop in that we provide a variety of services, not just lobbying at the Capitol,” she said. “While we certainly represent clients at the legislature, or before other governmental entities, much of what we do has nothing to do with activity at the Capitol. Some clients need assistance with strategic communications related to a pending government decision or an ongoing government process, such as permitting or licensing. They want to turn up the volume on their issues and messages with the press, elected and appointed officials, or with nonprofit supporters, corporate shareholders, or internal stakeholders and employees. We can help with that. In addition, we have deep experience in regulatory representation of clients before state agencies. And we have done extensive consulting on issue and candidate campaigns and coalition building.”
From differing backgrounds, Almeida and her colleagues bring diverse viewpoints to the strategies they craft for their clients. “We are a bipartisan team, and while we certainly don’t agree on everything, we are highly collaborative in nature. I strive to have people on my team who think differently than I, because it gives our clients the benefit of that diverse thinking. I look for people who are critical thinkers, who write well and pay great attention to detail, and who have a high level of emotional intelligence. I’m so fortunate to have a great team.”
In this interdisciplinary practice, communication is the make-or-break element. More than the simple transmission of facts, it is the thoughtful conveyance of ideas and points of view, delivered so as to inform, inspire and persuade, that make Almeida and her team so effective. It is also their ability to listen — to both clients and their opponents — in order to understand the imperatives that motivate decision making.
“Elected officials have the almost impossible task of having to know a great deal about an endless number of issues. We help clients get their points of view across to decision makers, in the right time frames and the proper forums, so as to be impactful. Our job is to present facts and information on our clients’ issues, listen carefully to reactions, make the arguments that are most persuasive, identify and rebut counterarguments, and track issues as they move through the process.”
Ongoing concerns about COVID, along with working remotely, continue to complicate government processes, placing Almeida and her team in greater demand than ever before. At the beginning of the pandemic, Almeida thought her practice might slow, but the opposite proved true. Within days of the COVID shutdown in March 2020, the phones were buzzing with existing and new clients needing to know what was happening at the state and federal levels and wanting help to communicate with decision makers.
“As a firm, we have always prided ourselves on a high level of client communication – it’s a core value for us. We give our clients very detailed information in real time, and help legislators and regulators make decisions by discussing issues substantively. The pandemic has solidified this core value. As COVID unfolded, there were new government announcements almost every day, and we leaned into communicating in even more depth with clients. The feedback from that work was incredibly positive and reinforced the importance of communication for us.”
Looking ahead to Minnesota’s 2022 legislative session, Almeida anticipates that it will be a dynamic, fast-paced and difficult year.
“Before COVID, it was standard practice to be in person at the legislature or in other government offices, having in-person conversations with elected and appointed officials and staff. That opportunity hasn’t existed much since March 2020. State agencies continue to work remotely, the Minnesota House will be completely remote for at least the first portion of the session, and the Senate will likely be some sort of hybrid. We have to do the best we can to stay in touch, which means transacting by Zoom, phone, text and email.”
Almeida outlined four factors that are significant going into the 2022 legislative: First, the ongoing pandemic and remote work; second, a large surplus of state funds; third, a politically divided government; and fourth, an election year for the governor and all 201 legislative seats.
“Given these factors, I think it’s going to be a very challenging year,” she says. “People wonder, with a large surplus available, why is the session so challenging? That’s where the partisan division of government comes in. There are vastly different ideas about whether and how the budget surplus should be spent. In addition, this is a redistricting year, where new lines for legislative and congressional districts get drawn, so many elected officials and potential candidates are watching closely as they consider their plans to run for election/reelection.”
Why is there a surplus of funds? “The surplus is the result of a combination of things,” she says. “Minnesota’s economy has done quite well in the last two years, despite the pandemic, and tax collections are up. Minnesota has also received significant federal funds to assist with pandemic-related problems. Some elected officials feel taxes are too high, and may argue for refunds or rebates, or the lowering of tax rates. Others will argue the surplus should be used to fund schools, or healthcare, or to cover COVID-related costs. There will be major differences of opinion, along with an upcoming election, which means consensus will be hard to achieve.”
Almeida and her team are well-equipped to meet the challenges ahead. “In light of what we know, we expect the 2022 session to be a bit chaotic, so we started preparing early. We’ve been talking to clients for some time about their 2022 priorities, and over the last few months have been talking to legislators to understand their priorities as well. The governor will release his proposed budget in mid-January, so we are preparing for that. This is also a year when there will be a capital projects and jobs bill, and that will be a major focus of the session.”
Cristine M. Almeida urges people not to be afraid to look for assistance if they are experiencing challenges with government. “We are here to help navigate government’s sometimes complex processes. Having someone on your side can give you peace of mind, and preserve resources that may otherwise be wasted trying to track an unfamiliar process. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”