Following an extensive career in the nation’s capital, Bob Porter now serves as vice president of public policy for the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce. A native of Texas, he now makes his home here and is enjoying the many aspects of St. Johns County that enrich residents’ lives.
Tell me about your role and responsibilities as vice president of public policy for the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce.
My primary role at the Chamber as VP, Public Policy is to act as the Chamber’s lobbyist representing the views of our 1,000 members before state, federal and local governments.
Our Public Policy Committee was created in 2017 to engage our membership in governmental issues that directly affect their businesses. Recent issues we have been actively involved with include: the dramatic reduction in the Florida sales tax rate on the value of commercial leases from 6.5% to eventually 2%; COVID-19 business liability protections; the addition of a new county judge for St. Johns County to ease the caseload burden on civil court cases; and the increase and extension of funding for Visit Florida, the state agency that was so instrumental in helping get SJC tourism businesses back on their feet after hurricanes Matthew and Irma.
Locally, we also regularly engage county and municipal governments in issues ranging from affordable housing and land use to environmental regulations and quality-of-life issues.
What is your background, and how did you find your way into your current position?
I spent 35 years in Washington, D.C., first as a congressional staffer, then later as the head of government affairs for a major law firm; a VP in former Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen’s firm doing international trade and defense work and finally jumping into the nonprofit arena as the first CEO of Paws for Purple Hearts, an organization training and placing mobility service dogs with wounded warriors.
When my wife Cynthia told me she was turning in her retirement papers after a 25-plus year public school teaching career, we decided to return to her hometown of St. Augustine where we have been since 2015.
I was lucky enough to land one of the few lobbying positions in St. Johns County at the Chamber and am thoroughly enjoying applying the skills I have learned over the years representing businesses of all sizes in their dealings with the state and local governments.
I enjoy the face-to-face interaction with our lawmakers and the opportunity to make the business community’s “case” on local issues directly affecting them.
Looking back over your career, what have been some of the highlights?
At the very young age of 24, I can point to a bill that I wrote, which became law creating the Small Business Trade Remedy Assistance Center at the U.S. Department of Commerce, which helps small businesses navigate the maze of government rules and remedies when they are hurt by unfairly traded “read cheap” foreign imports.
As a Senate staffer, I was given the opportunity to travel internationally, mainly in the Far East, Australia and New Zealand, which gave me a firsthand view at a young age of many different people and cultures.
One of my proudest professional achievements was leading the team at The Cohen Group hired by the City of Jacksonville that protected Naval Station Mayport and the Jacksonville Naval Air Station from closing during the 2005 round of the Defense Department Base Closing exercise (BRAC). Our team saved many thousands of jobs critical to the economy of Northeast Florida. I am proud to have played a role.
What are some of the causes that are important to you?
Animals, wounded veterans and affordable housing are very special to me.
Nothing better than seeing a 90-pound chocolate Lab you helped train be paired with a 6-foot 5-inch Army ranger who broke his back jumping out of an airplane during the Gulf War. In my mind, both lives were saved.
Affordable housing is another passion of mine. Not the stereotypical old Section 8 Chicago high-rise projects, but single-family housing that our police, school teachers, firefighters and medical professionals can afford. St. Johns County must be a haven for everyone, not just those fortunate few who can afford a $500K starter home.
Are you from this area originally? What do you like about living here?
I’m actually a sixth generation Texan by birth, transplanted to D.C. for better than half my life. My wife is third generation St. Augustine from Anastasia Island, so I get to see this beautiful county through the eyes of a native.
The pace is slower in many ways from D.C., but I like the fact that I can call a county commissioner, city commissioner or state representative and talk to them without going through layers of staff. These are real people who are our next-door neighbors, go to the same churches and shop at the same grocery stores, so they “get it.”
Also, as we live on the island, walking the beach with Cynthia and our therapy dog Humphrey never gets old. Don’t get me talking about the seafood … I can’t get enough fresh St. Augustine shrimp and fish!
How do you like to spend your free time?
As I mentioned, we walk the beaches a lot, but also enjoy exploring the “Old Florida” of Cynthia’s youth. Love doing weekend road trips to little out-of-the-way places up and down the state. We also love heading downtown for the history and the food — we have quite a restaurant scene for a town of only 14,000 people.
You may also see me scooting around the island in my 20-year-old BMW Z3 with the license plate SPDYCAR. It may have taken a while, but we have found our special place in the world, and we’ll never leave.
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here