TALLAHASSEE — Florida’s Senate Democrats are calling for confirmation hearings next week for Gov. Ron DeSantis’ new elections chief, incoming Secretary of State Cord Byrd.
With lawmakers meeting in Tallahassee on Monday for a special legislative session on the state’s property insurance crisis, Democrats said they would have “more than enough time” to hold confirmation hearings.
DeSantis last week named Byrd, a Republican state representative from Neptune Beach, as secretary of state after his predecessor, Laurel Lee, announced she was leaving.
The choice is subject to confirmation by the Senate. With the pivotal midterm elections later this year, next week’s legislative session is likely the only chance senators will have to hold those hearings before the election.
“We believe, and hope you agree, that it would be highly inappropriate for the new Secretary to preside over an election without the opportunity to be questioned under oath and fully vetted before the public,” they wrote to Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, on Tuesday.
A spokesperson for Simpson did not immediately return requests for comment about the request.
DeSantis spokesperson Taryn Fenske said in a statement that it typically takes weeks for state police to conduct the background checks and other protocols needed for Senate confirmation hearings, while the special session is next week.
“However, we look forward to the confirmation of the governor’s great choice in Secretary Byrd,” Fenske said.
Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, noted that Byrd will be overseeing the November elections in which DeSantis and every legislative, cabinet and congressional candidate will be on the ballot.
“I want the most competent, nonpartisan, objective person in charge of those elections,” Polsky said.
Byrd, she said, “is as admittedly right-wing as they come.” She said she had questions about Byrd’s thoughts on whether the 2020 election was stolen, as former President Trump has alleged.
“We need to know how he feels about that,” Polsky said.
Byrd and his wife, Esther, whom DeSantis recently appointed to the State Board of Education, have been photographed together on a boat flying a QAnon flag, according to Florida Politics.
Esther Byrd also came under fire for a tweet last year that said, “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. Every elected official in DC will pick one. There are only 2 teams… With Us [or] Against Us,” according to News 4 Jacksonville.
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Cord Byrd later called his wife’s tweet “hyperbole.”
DeSantis’ decision to choose Cord Byrd for secretary of state sparked immediate denunciation by Democratic lawmakers, who have clashed with Byrd personally and over some of the controversial legislation he’s sponsored in recent years.
“This may be DeSantis’ most frightening appointment to date,” state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, tweeted last week.
State Rep. Angie Nixon, D-Jacksonville, released a statement after DeSantis announced he was choosing Byrd for secretary of state, saying the idea that Byrd would be in charge of a first-of-its-kind elections police force “should be a frightening thought for every Floridian, no matter who you are or where you come from.”
When a protest in the House gallery broke out during a debate over a bill limiting abortions to 15 weeks, Byrd turned around and reportedly called at least one Black Democrat a “f---ing joke,” according to Florida Politics, which is considered a major breach of decorum. Nixon later called Byrd a “racist.” Byrd later said he was referring to the protesters when he made the comment.
DeSantis called Byrd an “ally of freedom and democracy in the Florida Legislature” who will ensure “Florida’s elections remain safe, secure and well-administered.”
Byrd, an attorney who has served in the Legislature since 2016, has sponsored some of DeSantis’ top priorities in recent years, including 2019 legislation banning so-called “sanctuary cities,” a 2020 bill requiring that some employers check the immigration status of new workers and broad anti-rioting legislation in 2021.
He also bucked his own party’s leadership in the Legislature to side with DeSantis’ proposal to redraw the state’s congressional maps, which would eliminate two districts represented by Black Democrats.