Peter Matthes, Governmental Relations

Photo by Tom Jorgensen.

For many, work is just another day at the office. For Peter Gibbons, the character from the movie Office Space, each day is worse than the terrible day before it. But for Peter Matthes, it’s the opposite.

“Every day is better than the last,” says Matthes, the federal relations director of University Governmental Relations.

The Iowa City native graduated from City High and received a degree in political science from The University of Iowa. During his time at the University, Matthes was a senator for UISG, participated in the Washington Center academic internship program, and interned for U.S. Rep. Jim Leach.

After graduation, Matthes spent two years in Washington, D.C., on Leach’s staff, and then moved to Des Moines and took a position on the Senate Republican Caucus staff. He stayed there for eight years before moving back to his roots in Iowa City.

“My love for the University goes back decades,” he says. “This position marries my love of the University and my love of politics.”

Matthes spoke with fyi about what new initiatives he has in store and how communication has evolved.

Since you joined the UI staff in September, a major project you’ve taken on is the Hawkeye Caucus. What is the Hawkeye Caucus and what does it hope to accomplish?

The Hawkeye Caucus is an umbrella group that will be focused on advocating for The University of Iowa across the state.

Our goal is to reach out to those who want to advocate but may not have the tools to do so. That’s really what the Hawkeye Caucus is about: identifying those individuals who have the heart and interest to get involved, and helping them achieve that connection with their state legislator.

The web-based tool will allow advocates to identify their legislator and how to best reach them, and provide instructions on how to communicate effectively. Legislators are very busy; you need to be succinct. Members of the Hawkeye Caucus must speak from the heart and explain why the University is a good investment for the future of Iowa.

Our goal is to do this slow and build a strong foundation. We want to do a couple of things very well, revisit and determine what went right or wrong, and from there change if we need to.

How do you plan on advertising this tool to students?

We have three student interns working with us now, and I think having a student group should really help bring things together. The idea is to be a spoke and hub in which the Hawkeye Caucus will be in the middle and from there we hope to engage many other communities and push the information out through word-of-mouth.

By making these connections with the fraternity and sorority community, University Democrats, UI College Republicans, or other major student groups, we hope they will push our goals and services outward.

How have your past experiences in Washington, D.C., and in Des Moines shaped how you approached your new position here at the University?

Communication and the way in which advocacy is done have changed dramatically over the past decade. When I worked for Congressman Leach, we would get flooded with phone calls and some e-mails—now people use Twitter, Facebook, RSS feeds, and other online interaction. Just in the past decade we have taken part in the dramatic shift in how people communicate. In my years before coming back to the University, I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t work for elected officials, and it’s helped me form our strategies for the Hawkeye Caucus.

How would your UI college experience have been different if you had the Hawkeye Caucus as a resource?

I didn’t see the advocacy side of things until I went out to D.C. and didn’t really understand how opinions are shaped, moved, and directed until I got to D.C. How do you take an issue and create momentum behind that issue in order to affect a policy outcome? You get some of that in student government, but I wish I had been able to participate in an advocacy campaign with such coordinated effort when I was here as a student.

What are your thoughts about social media and how it is being used today?

I love social media. I get a lot of information from Twitter. I’ve got Tweet Deck pulled up all day because there is a significant amount of dialogue that occurs on Twitter between elected officials and citizens. Information is currency, and to have the latest updated piece is valuable. It’s those pieces of information that allow you to inform others, and it’s that breadth of people you follow that helps you keep updated on a lot of different things that are going on in the world.

In the future, I certainly see Twitter as part of our advocacy solution, but how that is shaped will be determined more by the members of the Hawkeye Caucus than by me.

What are some of your favorite sports teams?

My favorite football teams are the Hawkeyes and the New York Jets. For baseball, I root for the Yankees. What I love most about sports: how individuals come together to work as a team in hopes of accomplishing a single goal.

What are some of your favorite books, movies, music, and activities?

I’m eclectic when it comes to music—pretty much anything and everything goes. Most of my reading is confined to political web sites or Hawkeye-related web sites. When it comes to movies, I really enjoy comedies.

I’ve discovered a love of running. I’m a big believer in having routine—it helps you break through lethargic behavior. Once you get into a routine, no matter how difficult it may be to get there, it sets you up for future success.

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