By Renzo Downey
May 16, 2022
Secretary of State Laurel Lee, who is rumored to be eyeing a congressional bid, will step down Monday.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has appointed Rep. Cord Byrd to be Florida’s next Secretary of State.
Byrd, a three-term Neptune Beach Republican, was rumored to be on the shortlist to replace outgoing Secretary of State Laurel Lee, who announced she would leave the administration Monday amid talk she would run for Congress. In Byrd, DeSantis will have someone largely viewed as an ally leading the department that heads election efforts when he appears on the ballot for re-election in November.
“Cord Byrd has been an ally of freedom and democracy in the Florida Legislature, and I am confident he will carry that mission forward as Secretary of State,” DeSantis said in a news release. “I look forward to his successes ensuring Florida’s elections remain safe, secure and well-administered.”
When Byrd steps into his new office in the Department of State, he will inherit a legal challenge to Florida’s congressional maps, which were drawn by DeSantis’ office and passed by the Legislature during a Special Session. Byrd will also oversee the Primary Election on Aug. 23 and the General Election on Nov. 8, and the Department will implement the Office of Election Crimes and Security under his watch.
Byrd aligned himself with DeSantis early in the redistricting process, voting against the Republican-led Legislature’s proposed congressional maps when DeSantis said he would veto them.
“Under the leadership of Gov. DeSantis, Florida has led the way on election security and preserving freedom for its residents,” Byrd said in the release. “As Secretary of State, I will make sure Florida continues to have secure elections and that we protect the freedom of our citizens in the face of big-tech censorship and ever-growing cybersecurity threats.”
In his nearly six years in the House, Byrd has served on the Public Integrity and Elections Committee each Session. He served as Vice Chair during the 2019 and 2020 Sessions. This Session, he led the State Legislative Redistricting Subcommittee.
Byrd has also carried several priority bills of DeSantis, including a 2019 ban on sanctuary cities currently in the courts, an E-Verify rule to enforce immigration law, and last year’s anti-riot law. The legislation, inspired by the 2020 Black Lives Matter demonstrations, also is under legal challenge. Byrd also was a prime co-sponsor on the Parents’ Bill of Rights and a 2021 cybersecurity infrastructure bill.
Byrd’s appointment followed DeSantis’ appointment of his wife, Esther Byrd, to the Board of Education in March. Beyond her relationship with Cord Byrd, she is known as a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump who has made comments supportive of QAnon.
After the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riots, Esther Byrd offered a defense of those “peacefully protesting” certification of the 2020 Presidential Election while alluding to “coming civil wars.”
“ANTIFA and BLM can burn and loot buildings and violently attack police and citizens,” Esther Byrd wrote on her personal Facebook page. “But when Trump supporters peacefully protest, suddenly ‘Law and Order’ is all they can talk about! I can’t even listen to these idiots bellyaching about solving our differences without violence.”
Cord Byrd deleted his Twitter account following the Capitol riot but reopened it last month after billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk announced he would purchase the social media platform.
The Representative has been vilified by several Democrats, including during a spat on the House floor between Byrd and Democratic Reps. Travaris McCurdy and Angie Nixon in February over pro-abortion rights protests in the House chamber. In another instance, former Democratic Rep. Omari Hardy likened Byrd to the devil during a 2021 committee meeting on a union dues bill.
“Florida’s top elections official should be a consensus builder whose sole focus is running free and fair elections for every citizen of our state. Cord Byrd is not that person,” Nixon, a fellow Duval County lawmaker, said in a news release.
“He is unqualified in both his credentials and his temperament, has proved time and again he will put partisanship ahead of good policy, and is unfit to lead the elections department of a diverse state of more than 20 million people. The idea that he will now be in charge of the Governor’s Elections Police force should be a frightening thought for every Floridian, no matter who you are or where you come from. This is another glaring example of Ron DeSantis’ attempt to weaponize government against his political opponents and we will not be silent in the face of the attacks on Black and Brown communities we know are coming.”
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat candidate for Governor, tweeted her opposition to Byrd’s appointment.
“The Secretary of State should serve the people of Florida, but Cord Byrd today was appointed because he will serve only Ron DeSantis. This reckless appointment should make every Floridian question Ron DeSantis’ commitment to free, fair and democratic elections,” she wrote.
Byrd initially announced he would run for Senate to replace Fernandina Republican Sen. Aaron Bean in Senate District 4. However, he dropped out of the Republican Primary after he and Jacksonville Rep. Jason Fischer endorsed Jacksonville Rep. Clay Yarborough for the seat. Byrd instead planned to run for a fourth term in House District 11, his final one before facing term limits.
DeSantis appointed Lee as Florida’s Secretary of State in January 2019, shortly after winning his election as Governor. She was the second person DeSantis named to the post but a Blackface scandal forced Mike Ertel to resign shortly after he was appointed to the job.
Despite being at the center of a number of political battles around election administration, Lee has been generally well-regarded on both sides of the aisle. Her office came under fire when the state’s voter registration website crashed on the last day to register to vote in the 2020 Presidential Election. She later told the Legislature an unnatural amount of traffic brought the site down that day, and that a deliberate attack had not been ruled out.