'He’s going to do a really, really good job': Florida Gov. DeSantis defends QAnon-adjacent Secretary of State appointment

DeSantis will have a "strong" ally overseeing election administration.

click to enlarge REP. CORD BYRD. IMAGE VIA FOX NEWS CHANNEL.
Rep. Cord Byrd. Image via Fox News Channel.
Florida will soon be off to the races in defending election integrity with Rep. Cord Byrd leading the Department of State, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday.

The Republican Governor appointed Byrd on Friday to succeed Secretary of State Laurel Lee, whose resignation takes effect Monday. When Byrd takes over on Tuesday, 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.

During a news conference in the Orlando area, home to some of the Governor’s strongest critics in state government, DeSantis was asked about concerns from Democrats, who were quick to call into question Byrd’s character and his proximity to conspiracy theories — through his wife, Esther — that former President Donald Trump won the 2020 election.

“I think Cord has been very, very strong in terms of wanting election integrity, and so we’re going to be off to the races, I think, very, very quickly,” DeSantis said. “He’s going to do a really, really good job, and I’m excited for him to get to work.”

Byrd, a three-term Neptune Beach Republican, was rumored to be on the shortlist to replace Lee, who announced her resignation amid talk she would run for Congress. 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 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.

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.

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, a liberal Democrat from Orlando, called Byrd a “hyperpartisan GOP loyalist” in a pair of tweets on Friday criticizing Byrd’s appointment.

“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,” Smith wrote.

“We need a Secretary of State (whose) top priority is free and fair elections, not a hyperpartisan GOP loyalist who takes orders from Ron DeSantis. Our right to vote is sacred and I worry about what this could mean for our democracy.”

WKMG reporter Ezzie Castro asked DeSantis directly about the first tweet. “Cord Byrd is very, very strong,” DeSantis said.

“We are not going to have to worry, in Florida, about Zuckerbucks infiltrating our elections with Cord as Secretary of State. We’re not going to have to worry about ballot harvesting with Cord as Secretary of State. We’re going to make sure that the elections are run efficiently and transparently. But we are not going to allow these external influences to come in and to corrupt the operations. And we’re certainly not going to allow political operatives to harvest all these votes, and then dump them somewhere.”

In his three years as Governor, DeSantis has signed election laws banning “Zuckerbucks,” the private funding named after Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg for officials to operate elections. He’s also approved increased penalties for “ballot harvesting,” handing in multiple completed mail-in ballots at once. Plus, after initially approving drop boxes in 2019 despite his opposition to them, DeSantis has signed legislation reining in their use.

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’s appointment followed DeSantis’ appointment of Esther Byrd to the Board of Education in March. Beyond her relationship with Cord Byrd, she is known as a staunch supporter of Trump who has made comments supportive of QAnon, the Proud Boys and others.

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.”

“In the coming civil wars (We the People vs the Radical Left and We the People cleaning up the Republican Party), team rosters are being filled,” wrote Esther Byrd. “Every elected official in DC will pick one. There are only 2 teams… With Us [or] Against Us.”

Similar to Smith, Orlando Democratic Rep. Anna V. Eskamani posted to Instagram after Cord Byrd’s appointment.

“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,” she posted.

“If the Governor’s goal is to be as extreme as possible (which clearly it is, LOL), he is 100% exceeding, and already appointed Rep. Byrd’s partner (who has expressed QAnon beliefs!) to the State Board of Education.”

This article first appeared at Florida Politics
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