State Rep. Cord Byrd of Neptune Beach was tapped Friday to be Florida’s secretary of state by Gov. Ron DeSantis, vaulting him into a statewide office that will oversee elections coming up fast in August and November.
DeSantis praised Byrd, an attorney, as an “ally of freedom and democracy in the Florida Legislature” who will carry that mission forward as the state’s top election official.
“I look forward to his successes ensuring Florida’s elections remain safe, secure and well-administered,” DeSantis said.
Two Democratic House members ripped the selection of Byrd, a Republican who has served in the House since 2016.
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State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando said Florida’s elections will be overseen by “a QAnon conspiracy theorist” who is a “hyperpartisan GOP loyalist.”
State Rep. Angie Nixon of Jacksonville said the secretary of state should be a consensus builder but DeSantis chose someone who will “attempt to weaponize government against his political opponents.”
“The idea that he (Byrd) 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,” she said.
Byrd rejected the characterizations. He said he has zero support for QAnon, a shadowy movement of conspiracy theorists who believe a powerful group of pedophiles plotted against President Donald Trump when he was in office.
“Well. Unequivocally no, “Byrd said.” I never have. I have no affiliation or support (for QAnon) of any kind. “
He said he has worked in the field of election law in his private practice and will apply the law to overseeing the state’s elections.
“In my 25 years as an attorney, when I go into a courtroom my obligation is to the Constitution and to the law,” he said. “That’s what I’ve done as a legislator and that’s what I’ll do as secretary. I take my oath very seriously and I will continue to uphold it, just as I have done for the past six years. “
Byrd, 51, had considered running for the state Senate seat that will be open due to term limits preventing Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, from running again for the Senate. But Byrd dropped out of that race after it became clear that Senate leaders were supporting state Rep. Clay Yarborough, R-Jacksonville.
Byrd then filed for re-election to District 11 in the House, but redistricting would have put him in the same district as state Rep. Sam Garrison, R-Fleming Island. He will withdraw from that race as he replaces outgoing Secretary of State Laurel Lee as secretary of state.
“I’ve always had an interest on the election law side and this is a great way to further that interest I’ve had for two decades,” Byrd said.
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In addition to being the state’s top election official, the secretary also oversees the Division of Corporations, the Division of Historical Resources and the Division of Library and Information Services.
Who is Cord Byrd?
The accusations against Byrd of being a supporter of QAnon date back to a photo in 2020 of him and his wife Esther on a boat that was flying a QAnon flag.
“We were on probably 20 different boats that day,” Cord Byrd said. “Somebody got a picture that’s out there and people who have an agenda have spun it, but none of it’s true. None of it. It’s all a lie.”
He said some of the reporting about the flag has incorrectly said the boat belonged to the Byrds, but they never have owned a boat.
DeSantis has struck up a tight relationship with the Byrds. He put Esther Byrd on the state Board of Education in March.
Her appointment was controversial because after the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol, Esther Byrd posted on Facebook her support for the Trump side, warning, “There are only 2 teams. With Us (or) Against Us. We the People will NOT forget.”
DeSantis’ appointment of Cord Byrd, who has been a legislative ally, is an unconventional move by a governor who often pushes the bounds of his own office.
Those who have previously served in the post often had some experience in the elections field, or were seen as capable of playing the role of an unbiased umpire.
With its history of tight contests – Florida had three statewide recounts in 2018 – DeSantis’ predecessors frequently touted a perception of neutrality and fairness as a requirement for the job. Lee, for example, was a judge before being DeSantis appointed her. .
But the naming of Byrd may test that standard.
DeSantis cited Byrd’s service on the Public Integrity and Elections Committee in the state House and said Byrd pushed legislation that “will protect freedom in Florida.”
DeSantis said those include legislation banning “sanctuary cities” for undocumented immigrants, requiring the use of E-Verify, toughening penalties on protestors, expanding parents’ rights in education of their children at school, and tightening the state’s cybersecurity system.
The governor’s announcement said Byrd has been “a staunch advocate for election security, public integrity, the fight against big tech censorship and the de-platforming of political candidates.”
Byrd said in a statement released by the governor’s office he 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.”
Byrd becomes the highest-ranking statewide official from Northeast Florida. He noted that the region also will see state Rep. Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, become the next speaker of the House.
Bryd said it was “not planned at all” for him and his wife to both get statewide positions.
“It’s just two people who were involved and want to serve our community and our state, and are fortunate to have a governor who sees value in us helping him and the citizens of Florida,” he said.
He said he will be moving quickly to get situated as secretary of state.
“I have a lot to learn and a short time to get up to speed,” he said. “I know that Secretary Lee has done a great job and will have everything in place.”