Robert Lee Fulton Sikes (June 3, 1906 – September 28, 1994) was an American politician of the Democratic Party who represented the Florida Panhandle in the United States House of Representatives from 1941 to 1979, with a brief break in 1944 and 1945 for service during World War II.
|Member of the|
U.S. House of Representatives
January 3, 1941 – October 19, 1944
|Preceded by||Millard Caldwell|
|Constituency||3rd district (1941–1944|
January 3, 1945 – January 3, 1979
|Succeeded by||Earl Hutto|
|Constituency||3rd district (1945–1963)|
1st district (1963–1979)
|Member of the|
Florida House of Representatives
Robert Lee Fulton Sikes
June 3, 1906
Isabella Station, Worth County, Georgia
|Died||September 28, 1994 (aged 88)|
Crestview, Okaloosa County, Florida
Mildred Inez Tyner
(m. 1949; div. 1983)
Joan Thomas Dunning
|Children||2, Robert K. Sikes and Bobbye Sikes Wicke|
|Parent(s)||Benjamin Franklin Sikes and Clara Ophelia Ford Sikes|
|Branch/service||United States Army|
|Years of service||1944|
|Unit||U.S. Army Air Corps|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
He served during a long period in which Florida was effectively a one-party state dominated by Democrats, as the Republican Party had been weakened by the disfranchisement of African Americans by racist policies and Jim Crow laws. The Republican Party began a resurgence in the 1970s.
In 1975 Sikes was accused by Common Cause of financial misconduct and was investigated and censured by the House in 1976. He did not seek re-election in 1978.
Early life and educationEdit
Born in Isabella, near Sylvester, Georgia, Sikes attended the public schools, which were segregated. He obtained his Bachelor of Science in 1927 from the University of Georgia at Athens, where he was a member of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity. He went to Florida for graduate school, receiving a Master of Science in 1929 from the University of Florida at Gainesville.
This section needs additional citations for verification. (March 2019)
He soon became active in politics, joining the Democratic Party, which was effectively the only party for whites in the state in the early part of his career. At the turn of the century, the Democratic-dominated legislature had passed a new constitution and laws that disenfranchised most African Americans, crippling the Republican Party, of which they had been the majority. Sikes was elected in 1936 to the Florida House of Representatives, during the Great Depression and a landslide year for the Democrats, aligned with the popular President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Sikes was re-elected, serving until 1940.
Sikes was elected in 1940 to the Seventy-seventh Congress from what was then the 3rd District, and was re-elected to a second term in the Seventy-eighth Congress. His victory followed a bitter Democratic primary campaign. As Florida was then essentially a one-party state, most races were effectively decided in the Democratic primary.
Sikes served from January 3, 1941, until his resignation on October 19, 1944, to enter the United States Army during World War II. He was commissioned as a major. As a Congressman, Sikes had pressed for development in the state, including of Eglin Field as a test facility of the United States Army Air Forces, and later, the U.S. Air Force.
When President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered all legislators on active duty to return to Washington, Sikes ran for his old seat in 1944 and won. He served in the 79th and sixteen succeeding Congresses. After the war, Sikes was selected as a delegate to the Interparliamentary Conference in Warsaw, Poland, in 1959.
Sikes was a colleague of representatives Courtney W. Campbell, a fellow Democrat, and William C. Cramer of St. Petersburg, who defeated Campbell in 1954 to become the first Republican elected in Florida to the House delegation since 1880 after Reconstruction.
Sikes in his memoir describes the Campbell-Cramer campaign of 1954:
Courtney Campbell hard-working, dedicated, and capable but ineffective in public speaking ... Courtney couldn't cope with the articulate Bill Cramer on the platform ... Cramer was articulate, a successful lawyer, and he already enjoyed some recognition in public life. In my effort to help Campbell, I said that Cramer, serving in a Democratic Congress, would be like a lost ball in high weeds. Bill never let me forget that statement, although subsequently we became good friends.
Sikes's district, which was renumbered as the 1st District in 1963, began moving away from its Yellow Dog Democratic roots after World War II. The district's voters began splitting their tickets as early as the 1950s, and voted for the Republican presidential candidate in every election from 1964 onward, except when the segregationist third-party candidacy of George Wallace won a majority in 1968. However, Sikes remained very popular at home. He never won less than 80 percent of the vote, and usually faced "sacrificial lamb" Republican challengers on the occasions he faced any opposition at all. In 1964, for instance, Sikes was reelected unopposed even as Barry Goldwater won the district by such a large margin it almost pushed Florida into the Republican column.
In Congress, Sikes became one of the most powerful men in Washington; he was often called "Florida's third Senator". He used his seniority to help build fourteen military bases in the Panhandle. He also had a reputation for strong constituent service, which garnered him the nickname "the He-Coon". Sikes said the nickname is from a Panhandle legend about a male raccoon that not only knew where food and water were, but also fended off his enemies and looked after his territory – as Sikes put it, a he-coon was expected to "look after those around him".
Along with Republican congressmen Jack Edwards of Alabama and Trent Lott of Mississippi, Sikes helped originate the Gulf Coast Congressional Report on WKRG-TV in Mobile, Alabama (the CBS affiliate for most of his district) in 1973. He left the program in 1979 upon his retirement.
In 1975, Common Cause, a public-affairs lobbying group, accused Sikes of using his office for personal gain. He owned stock in a Pensacola Naval Air Station bank that had been established by government officials at his urging, as well as in military contractor Fairchild Industries, which benefited from government contracts. He failed to disclose his interest in both these companies in the requisite financial reports. Sikes was reprimanded by a 381-3 vote of the House of Representatives on July 26, 1976, for the financial misconduct. Sikes, a strong conservative, believed "flaming liberals" had conspired against him.
Later years, death and legacyEdit
Sikes did not seek reelection in 1978 to Congress, having never lost an election in 45 years as an elected official. Upon his political retirement, Sikes returned to Crestview and devoted himself to his business interests. He died on September 28, 1994.
- The Bob Sikes Bridge, connecting Gulf Breeze to Santa Rosa Island, is named after him.
- Bob Sikes Airport near the city of Crestview, in Okaloosa County, is named for him.
- Bob Sikes Elementary School, located in Crestview, Florida
- The Robert LF Sikes Center, located in Crestview, Florida is named for him (part of Northwest Florida State College).
- County Road 280, known as "Bob Sikes Road", connects U.S. Route 331 in DeFuniak Springs, FL in the west to Florida State Road 285 in the east.
- "Bob Sikes - Pensapedia, the Pensacola encyclopedia". www.pensapedia.com. Retrieved 4 December 2017.
- Richard M. Valelly, The Two Reconstructions: The Struggle for Black Enfranchisement University of Chicago Press, 2009, pp. 146-147
- Crestview, Florida, "Monticello Mudslinger Shows Desperation In Losing Campaign", Okaloosa News-Journal, Friday 17 May 1940, Volume 26, Number 20, page 1.
- Crestview, Florida, "The Public Wants To Know Where Mr. Mays Stands", Okaloosa News-Journal, Friday 17 May 1940, Volume 26, Number 20, page 1.
- Crestview, Florida, "Monticello Mudslinger Smears Countryside Desperat [sic] Propaganda", Okaloosa News-Journal, Friday 24 May 1940, Volume 26, Number 21, page 1.
- Crestview, Florida, "Mays Loses Temper And Tries To Stop Bob Sikes' Speech", Okaloosa News-Journal, Friday 24 May 1940, Volume 26, Number 21, page 1.
- "Florida prosperous in war year". Retrieved 4 December 2017.
- Billy Hathorn, "Cramer v. Kirk: The Florida Republican Schism of 1970", The Florida Historical Quarterly, LXVII, No. 4 (April 1990), p. 406
- "Bob Sikes, He-coon of politics, dead at 88". news.google.com. Retrieved 4 December 2017.
- REP. Robert Sikes dies at 88
- United States Congress. "Bob Sikes (id: S000406)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.