A longtime power player in Republican politics — serving under former President Ronald Reagan and reaching the Executive Committee of the national party — is retiring from the lobbying firm he built into one of the state’s Top 10 firms.
But don’t expect to stop hearing from Al Cárdenas, who’s been rated the “best in the business” for lobbying, according to The Hill. He also previously served as co-chair of the 2004 Bush-Cheney Florida Campaign and was a key force propelling the Institute of Politics’ 2020 founding at Florida State University, where he’s the Chairman of the Institute’s first Advisory Board.
“I like to call it a legacy phase,” Cárdenas said, describing what he’ll be pursuing after about 20 years building The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners.
Yes, he’s planning on improving his golf handicap and adding pounds to his bench press, but mostly, he’s looking for ways to spread the heft of the insight he’s gained from decades in state and national politics. Expect to see him serving on more boards of directors, investing in new ventures, and reaching out to the next generation of leaders.
“It’s not going to be as busy a schedule as I had before, but it’s a whole new agenda,” Cárdenas said.
Serving as an adjunct professor at FSU gave him new ideas about how his next chapter could go.
“I taught a class there to a group we called fellows that the faculty hand-picked and I enjoyed it a lot,” Cárdenas said. “It reassured me that … this new phase could be spending a lot of time giving back to others … That whatever I’ve learned in life and in politics could help them (the fellows) in their own thought process and career.”
His cohorts speak of his work — and what he has to offer — in superlatives.
Ed Moore former President and CEO of Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida, credits Cárdenas as instrumental in Gov. Jeb Bush’s ascension to the state’s top executive job. He’s also been a strong voice for reasonable and rational public policy, Moore said.
“He’s added a lot of value to conservative thought in Florida and in the country,” Moore said, recalling how Cárdenas also served as Chairman of the American Conservative Union, which organizes the largest gathering of U.S. conservatives, known as the Conservative Political Action Conference. “I think the idea that has driven him for so long is the concept of freedom. He really knows what it means in his heart.”
Cárdenas came to South Florida from Cuba as part of Operation Pedro Pan, a clandestine operation to keep some 14,000 children out of Fidel Castro’s indoctrination centers. He was just 12 years old at his arrival, but he immediately fell in love with his adopted country, he said.
“The minute I got here,” he said. “It’s everything one could hope for.”
He’s been working nonstop, starting with mowing lawns, and then multiple jobs while in law school, where he also had his first taste of politics. Back then, he was elected Chair of the Republican Party of Ocean County in New Jersey in a nail-biter of a contest.
Turning away from the day-to-day details of his lobbying work was by no means an easy decision, he wrote in a letter to the firm’s clients. But he wants to use the strengths that come with age and experience.
“I will dedicate my life to service: embrace the gifts of wisdom which can enrich others and hopefully mentor, advise and teach others,” he said.
A statement from two senior partners at The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners had high praise for the legacy Cárdenas is leaving behind, recalling him as the counselor to presidents and governors and promising to continue in his tradition.
“The legacy of service to our clients and our state is incomparable and we thank Al for his vision, tenacity, love and his respect of the process,” read a written statement from Slater Bayliss and Stephen Shiver.
Cárdenas said his younger colleagues are ready to take the helm at the firm that bears his name. He, meanwhile, “will look forward to staying in touch.”