Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has tasked the state’s electoral systems with a deeply conservative lawmaker who has championed legislation banning so-called sanctuary cities and calls himself “Florida’s gun lawyer.”
DeSantis announced the nomination of State Representative Cord Byrd for secretary of state on Friday, a day after current incumbent Laurel Lee announced she was stepping down. Byrd takes control of the Florida Department of State at a critical time in the agency’s history: For the first time, the office will oversee a new election security force with unprecedented authority to seek out violations of elections and voting in the state. The new election force was a top priority for DeSantis, who signed legislation to create the Bureau of Election Crimes and Security earlier this year.
“Under the leadership of Governor DeSantis, Florida has led the way in election security and preserving the freedom of its residents,” Byrd said in a statement. “As Secretary of State, I will ensure that Florida continues to have secure elections and that we protect the freedom of our citizens from big tech censorship and ever-increasing cybersecurity threats. ”
The leadership change comes amid a busy midterm election cycle where DeSantis will be on the ballot, and with the State Department embroiled in multiple lawsuits over Florida’s new congressional map and a 2021 law that places new restrictions on mail-in voting and other elections. measures. A state judge on Thursday ruled DeSantis-backed new congressional boundaries unconstitutional because they diminish the power of black voters in North Florida, but an appeals court on Friday suspended the court’s decision lower.
Lee, the outgoing secretary of state, has earned praise for his steady hand from county election officials overseeing statewide voting. Supporters of former President Donald Trump have at times exerted immense pressure on Lee and county election officials to conduct an Arizona-style review of the 2020 election, even though Trump won Florida by a healthy margin. . Lee dismissed those efforts, saying last year that the 2020 results were “accurate, reliable.”
Tapping Byrd for the job, DeSantis noted the legislator’s sponsorship of a handful of controversial bills in recent years, including legislation banning sanctuary cities and a 2021 measure signed by the governor that imposed new restrictions. to protests following the civil unrest over the police killing of George Floyd. A judge halted implementation of the bill, calling it unconstitutional and a “trap for the innocent.”
Byrd is a Neptune Beach attorney. According to his website, his practice specializes in firearms-related matters, such as helping clients revoke concealed weapons licenses or appeal a firearms purchase denial. On the site and on Facebook, Byrd identifies himself as “Florida’s gun lawyer.”
Earlier this year, State Representative Angie Nixon, a black Democratic congresswoman, accused Byrd to “antagonize and insult members of the Black Caucus” during a floor debate on a bill to ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Nixon said Byrd swore at them as protesters staged a demonstration in the House gallery.
Byrd, in response, did not deny using the expletive, but said he was not addressing state lawmakers and called Nixon a “one-trick pony” who regularly claims that political opponents are racists and white supremacists, according to Florida Politics.
“Cord Byrd has been an ally of freedom and democracy in the Florida Legislature, and I am confident he will continue that mission as Secretary of State,” DeSantis said in a statement. “I look forward to his successes in keeping elections in Florida safe, secure and well administered.”
Cord is the second Byrd named by DeSantis to a state office this year. In March, DeSantis appointed Byrd’s wife, Esther, to the state board of education. The nomination resurfaced in Esther Byrd’s social media story, which included posts that appeared to describe the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol as “Trump supporters peacefully protesting,” while also alluding to the “civil wars to come”. Cord Byrd told a Jacksonville television station that his wife’s remarks were “hyperbole”.