Eric Edwards, the longtime Tallahassee-based legislative assistant to Republican state Sen. Don Gaetz, is joining U.S. Sugar Corporation’s in-house influence team, the company announced.
His title will be Assistant Vice President of Governmental Affairs.
“We have wanted to strengthen and expand our internal government relations operation for some time, and we have patiently searched for just the right combination of experience, personality, and potential,” said Robert Coker, Vice President of U.S. Sugar and its head lobbyist.
“We hit the trifecta with Eric Edwards,” he added. “All of us on the U.S. Sugar government relations team are very excited about having Eric on board.”
Gaetz, the term-limited Niceville Republican, said Edwards “has a better understanding of the legislative process and how things get done in Tallahassee than almost anyone I know. He has served the Senate with distinction.”
That’s not the only good news for Edwards: He also married Capital City Consulting lobbyist Jen Gaviria this past weekend.
She will be leaving the firm to relocate with him to the company’s headquarters in Clewiston, Hendry County.
“She’s a superstar, and we hate to lose her, but we wish her and Eric all the best,” firm co-founder Nick Iarossi said. He is actively recruiting to fill Gaviria’s position, he added.
“This is an exciting new chapter in a new town, but will be equally challenging,” Gaviria wrote in an email sent to friends and clients Sunday night. “I thank the hardworking and incredibly talented members of Capital City Consulting for such an enriching experience. I am forever grateful for their friendship, and will always consider them family.”
Iarossi’s firm has built a reputation for being able to attract the very best of rising talent. It will be fascinating to see who CCC next draws to its roster.
The sugar company regularly employs dozens of lobbyists over the course of a year. As of Friday, lobbying registration records showed 23 on board, including Brian Ballard, Frank and Tracy Mayernick, and Mac Stipanovich, to name a few.
U.S. Sugar, with over $1 billion in annual revenue, stokes envy among other agribusinesses and roils controversy among the state’s environmentalists.
It got its start in the early part of the 20th century, when businessman Charles Stewart Mott “invested millions of dollars of his own funds in a sugar cane farming operation and convinced others that the dream of growing in the rich muck soils around Lake Okeechobee was not only possible, but it could be profitable,” the company’s website says.
It now farms nearly 190,000 acres in Hendry, Glades and Palm Beach counties, creating jobs and contributing to America’s table. But it’s regularly been criticized, usually unfairly, for agricultural practices that cause runoff into the state’s “River of Grass.”
In 2013, the conglomerate got a measure passed by lawmakers and approved by Gov. Rick Scott that saved the industry millions of dollars on Everglades pollution cleanup.
U.S. Sugar’s political contributions average approximately $1.5 million per year. When you subtract dollars spent in years involving a constitutional amendment related to their industry, that average is significantly lower.
All of Florida’s major industries, including Disney, pay for the smartest and best lobbyists to help them navigate Florida’s crowded and confusing political process. Edwards, under Coker’s tutelage, will no doubt soon be on that list.