After 42 years of a “legendary” lobbying career with U.S. Sugar, Robert Coker is announcing he will retire at the end of this year.
Coker made his mark on Tallahassee and Washington while serving as U.S. Sugar’s Senior Vice President of Public Affairs. He famously helped defeat the 1996 Penny-A-Pound sugar tax, and shaped policies like the Everglades Forever Act and the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.
“By all measures, Robert Coker has done an outstanding job in managing U.S. Sugar’s public affairs efforts over the last 42 years as well as always looking out for the best interests of our employees and our community,” U.S. Sugar President and CEO Kenneth W. McDuffie said.
“He earned a reputation as a man of honor and integrity from the Glades to Tallahassee, to Washington, D.C and beyond.”
Eric Edwards, U.S. Sugar’s Vice President of Governmental Affairs, will succeed Coker. The Clewiston native has worked alongside Coker for the last seven years. Coker’s last day will be Dec. 31.
McDuffie reflected on Coker’s long and impactful career in a statement Tuesday.
“Robert has been a key part of defeating or greatly diminishing the negative impacts of many legislative and regulatory threats to our business as well as managing the politics of limiting potentially devastating trade impacts in NAFTA and other foreign trade agreements. He was instrumental to efforts surrounding the Everglades Forever Act, the Penny-A-Pound sugar tax amendments, the River of Grass Acquisition, and Senate Bill 10,” McDuffie said.
“He also helped craft and gain approval of more than 10 federal farm bills, the Mexican Suspension Agreements, several Right to Farm Acts on both state and national levels, and a multitude of strategic water rules and regulations (including CERP & CEPP) that help support agriculture and science-based restoration. In addition, he secured significant cost-share resources that improved and upgraded our railroad transportation infrastructure. These achievements have ensured that Robert Coker’s legacy will live on for decades to come.”
Coker began his U.S. Sugar career in 1982 in the Community Affairs Department. In 1993, he made the leap to Vice President of Community Affairs. Coker rose to his current role as Senior Vice President of Public Affairs in 2000.
“As a corporate officer and a valued member of our senior leadership team, Robert has been actively engaged in strategic corporate decisions from environmental regulation to real estate for more than two decades,” McDuffie said. “His advice and counsel has been greatly appreciated by the senior management team, CEO and our board of directors.”
Coker has earned plenty of accolades over the years, including being named a “Legend” in Florida Politics by INFLUENCE Magazine.
“Robert Coker has been called a legend in the political arena, and that’s a pretty good summation of his career,” McDuffie said.
Former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli echoed that sentiment.
“There is no question that farmers across the state have benefitted tremendously from Robert’s leadership,” Crisafulli said. “Over the last 40 years, Florida agricultural policy has had Robert’s fingerprints all over it, and as a result, Florida is now one of the most ag-friendly states in the nation. His successful career truly set the standard for practitioners of politics and lobbying across Florida and the nation.”
Screven Watson, a veteran Democratic strategist and lobbyist, also praised Coker’s tenure.
“It’s not often that you meet a person in this process that is equal parts smart, strategic, kind, loyal and tenacious. For more than 40 years, Robert has been that person. The measure of Robert’s success has been all of the successful candidates, lobbyists and other professionals he has mentored. Whether you have worked with him or against him, he has earned the respect of nearly everyone on both sides of the aisle,” Watson said.
“Robert’s rules of lobbying were centered around never misleading or misrepresenting the facts to policymakers, confronting weaknesses in your own arguments and never allowing yourself to be bullied by those who disagree with you. The State of Florida, our agriculture industry and the entire legislative process is a better place because of the 40-plus years Robert Coker walked the halls representing U.S. Sugar. Congratulations to Robert on one hell of a career and a well-deserved retirement.”