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UNHINGED: DeSantis appoints conspiracy theorist to oversee elections in Florida

UNHINGED: DeSantis appoints conspiracy theorist to oversee elections in Florida

UNHINGED: DeSantis appoints conspiracy theorist to oversee elections in Florida

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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.

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.

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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 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.

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.

RELATED STORY: OPINION: Ron DeSantis’ war on Disney exposes GOP’s duplicity

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