Florida Times-Union | By Emily Bloch | March 14, 2022
JACKSONVILLE, Fla — A controversial addition to the state Board of Education centers on a local figure. Esther Byrd of Neptune Beach was appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to the Florida Board of Education, his office announced Friday.
The wife of Republican state Rep. Cord Byrd, she is a former Marine and currently works as a legal assistant and office manager for her husband’s law office, which primarily focuses on gun laws and Second Amendment issues.
She is the President of the Republican Women’s Club of Duval Federated and ran an unsuccessful campaign for a Neptune Beach City Council seat in 2020.
Past controversies for Esther Byrd
Byrd most notably landed in the public eye for her tweets supporting the Capitol insurrection, as well as the QAnon conspiracy theory and defending the Proud Boys. A photo of the Byrds flying a QAnon flag on their boat was widely circulated last year.
“ANTIFA and BLM can burn and loot buildings and violently attack police and citizens,” Byrd wrote last year. “But when Trump supporters peacefully protest, suddenly ‘Law and Order’ is all they can talk about! I can’t even listen to these idiots bellyaching about solving our differences without violence.”
She continued, “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.”
Cord Byrd laughed off the tweet at the time, calling it hyperbole.
Following public backlash, the couple respectively deleted their Twitter accounts, but Esther Byrd is still active on Facebook.
Support for DeSantis
In a column for Jacksonville Today, veteran politics reporter A.G. Gancarski called Byrd’s appointment a “base play” by DeSantis to help garner re-election support in a county that went blue in the 2018 gubernatorial election.
“This literally is his idea of yet another gift to this region, and an illustration that no matter how many times people yell BLU-VAL, he still thinks this is the Republican red meat safe space it was in previous eras,” Gancarski wrote.
Though Byrd’s position is still subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate, the incoming board member has already weighed in with her support of the controversial Parental Rights in Education Bill, which has been nicknamed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by critics.
The Board of Education would be the body in charge of hearing administrative appeals for violations of the potential law. Critics online have questioned Byrd’s lack of relevant experience in the education realm. The Times-Union reached out to the governor’s office to ask about the selection process and Byrd’s qualifications for the role but did not receive an immediate response.
Mixed response to Esther Byrd’s appointment
Response to the appointment has been mixed and mostly falls along party lines.
Liv Coleman, a political science professor based out of Tampa and a former Democrat state House candidate who lost in 2018, said Byrd’s appointment “corrupts education with political interference.”
Joshua Hicks, a Democrat running for Jacksonville City Council, called Byrd “unqualified.”
“As a QANON believer and Proud Boys supporter, she shouldn’t have any role or say in our education system in Florida,” Hicks said.
Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried, a Democrat who is also running for governor, said Gov. DeSantis is turning Florida into “a cruel, radical joke” with Byrd’s appointment.
Steve Zona, president of the Jacksonville Fraternal Order of Police, congratulated Byrd on the appointment, touting her support for local police.
“When many democrat leaders in FL abandoned LEO’s during the riots/summer of love, Esther Lyle Byrd stood with us & never backed down,” Zona wrote on Facebook. “Congratulations on your appointment to the FL Board of Education. The parents in Florida are the winners, I know you won’t cave to the woke.”
Tina Descovich, a co-founder of the conservative group Moms for Liberty, called Byrd “an amazing woman.”
The Times-Union reached out to Byrd for comment but did not immediately hear back.