Earlier this year, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis made headlines when he signed legislation authorizing the creation of an election police force accountable to him. The new force is one of the first in the nation and will include 15 staffers focusing on election fraud investigations and 10 law enforcement agents who investigate election crimes. Taxpayers are footing a $3.7 million bill for this completely unnecessary entity that will be housed in the newly created Office of Election Crimes and Security within Florida’s Department of State.
This follows a series of voter suppression measures by DeSantis and his allies in the Florida Legislature. Republicans have sought to limit Floridians from accessing mail-in voting, create limits on who can pick up and return a voter’s ballot, restrict drop-boxes, and impose harsher signature matching requirements. These efforts stem from Donald Trump’s baseless conspiracy theories regarding fraud in the 2020 election.
It’s clear that DeSantis is trying to gain control of the electoral infrastructure in Florida to rig it in the GOP’s favor. Now, he has just made a major move towards that goal. After the resignation of Secretary of State Laurel Lee, who left her position to run for U.S. Congress, DeSantis appointed one of his cronies, Republican State Representative Cord Byrd, to the Secretary of State role.
— Orlando Sentinel (@orlandosentinel) May 13, 2022
Byrd is not just unqualified for the position, he is a full-blown conspiracy theorist who lacks the temperament to hold any sort of public office. He cursed at Black Democratic lawmakers on the floor of the Florida House of Representatives, calling them a “fucking joke.” He is best known for calling himself “Florida’s gun lawyer” and pushing hateful anti-immigrant legislation.
This may be DeSantis’ most frightening appointment to date. Florida now has a QAnon conspiracy theorist and promoter of the big lie overseeing our state elections and DeSantis’ elections police. 1/ https://t.co/u3BNWNWJQW
— Rep. Carlos G Smith (@CarlosGSmith) May 13, 2022
Earlier this year, Byrd’s wife was appointed to Florida’s Board of Education despite her having a history of controversial and conspiratorial comments, including describing the January 6th attack on the US Capitol as “Trump supporters peacefully protesting,” while also alluding to “the coming civil wars.” She also wrote in defense of the Proud Boys, a far-right organization known for political violence, complaining that Facebook was “throwing people in FB jail” who share information about them. To top it all off, she is a QAnon supporter and was photographed on a boat that flew a QAnon flag.
When asked about his wife’s comments, Byrd claimed her comments were “hyperbole” and said “people talk about civil wars in the Republican Party” while claiming it was a “figure of speech”.
DeSantis’ appointment is a reward to Cord Byrd for his willingness to carry water for the governor, no matter how unconstitutional and anti-democratic. Byrd was supportive when DeSantis inserted himself in the redistricting process in an unprecedented manner, proposing extremely gerrymandered congressional maps that cut down the number of Black majority districts in Florida by half. Even after DeSantis behaved like a petty tyrant, vetoing the maps passed by both chambers of the Florida-controlled Republican legislature due to them not being gerrymandered enough, Byrd continued to support the governor’s efforts.
“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. He is unqualified in both his credentials and his temperament…” https://t.co/rVGgdvSXby
— Rep. Angie Nixon (@AngieNixon) May 14, 2022
Florida Republicans caved to DeSantis and approved his gerrymandered maps, despite warning from scholars and experts that they were unconstitutional. This week, Circuit Judge Layne Smith ruled against DeSantis, ordering that the state stop efforts to dismantle a majority Black district in North Florida.
“I am finding the enacted map is unconstitutional because it diminishes African Americans’ ability to elect candidates of their choice,” said Judge Layne.
Regardless of whatever happens to DeSantis’ undemocratic maps, Byrd did his job. He supported the governor in his efforts to continue rigging elections in the GOP’s favor and was willing to debase himself to curry favor. He received his appointment as a reward and you can expect him to continue doing DeSantis’ bidding in his new position.
Terrible appointment — not only is it an "award" to Rep. Byrd for voting w/the Governor (including on UNCONSTITUTIONAL MAPS!) but Byrd has supported partisan bills that place barriers to voting and has verbally assaulted Democratic members in the legislature too. 1/2 pic.twitter.com/cHeQrZITna
— Rep. Anna V. Eskamani 🔨 (@AnnaForFlorida) May 13, 2022
This is concerning to anyone who wants a healthy and fair democracy.
Thomas Kennedy is an elected Democratic National Committee member representing Florida. He tweets from @tomaskenn.
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is a former reported opinion columnist and roving correspondent. He's an elected member of the Democratic National Committee from Florida and a fomer Director of Sunshine Agenda Inc. a government transparency nonprofit organization.