State Rep. Cord Byrd, R-Neptune Beach, believes the state is in a good place economically and wants to continue his work with another term in the state’s House of Representatives, and possibly beyond.
Byrd, a gun rights attorney currently in his second two-year term, spoke by phone with the News-Leader about his campaign, his tenure in the House and priorities for the future. He said economic recovery is his number one priority, and that the 11th District is heading in the right direction. Byrd wants to get businesses open.
“I was looking at some numbers that statewide unemployment is falling, and Nassau County is at 4.9% which is ahead of the region and the state,” Byrd said. “I think things are headed generally in the right direction. Keeping that economic train going, we are going to have billions of dollars in deficits and we are going to have to deal with that. The quickest path to recovery is making sure everyone has a job and businesses are open, so I think that’s priority number one.”
The situation with the coronavirus pandemic has brought to light some issues with the way Florida deals with a crisis situation, Byrd said, and he wants to address those issues.
“I want to look at the statutes regarding emergency powers. The statutes on the books in many instances are decades old,” he said. “They never contemplated a situation like the pandemic we face, and they faced confusion. I’ve had constituents contact me and say how can government do this, and I said unfortunately there were statutes on the books allowing government to do this. I think we need to have a whole conversation about what that means and if we need to revise them and update them to ensure that liberty is protected while still protecting public safety.”
During the pandemic, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s website has been overwhelmed by people applying for unemployment benefits. Byrd said the system wasn’t designed to handle the volume of applications, but his office has worked to help people receive benefits. He said, “It needs to be fixed” and “We will do it” but didn’t provide details about how the Legislature will or should address the problem. “I know it was very, very frustrating to many constituents and we tried to be as responsive as possible. We were able to help a large number of people,” Byrd said.
Conservation and development are always hot topic issues in Florida, and Byrd said the two sides of that coin can coexist. He said his family has been in Jacksonville Beach for more than a century, giving him perspective about those who want to live in Florida as opposed to families who are already here.
“We have great natural resources, great weather and a great economic environment, in many respects due to the policies that have been pursued by the Legislature and governors over the last 20 years,” Byrd said. “With that growth comes additional pressures on our natural resources. That’s one of the things that we are trying to focus on. I don’t think it’s an either-or, that you can either preserve the quality of life or have growth. I think it has to be managed, but I can tell you my family has been in the Jacksonville beaches for more than 100 years, and when I hear people say we need to limit growth – when should we have limited that? In the ’50s, the’ 60s, the ’70s? Most of the people that scream the loudest about that are the ones that moved here the most recently. My family has a pretty good argument to say, ‘Wait a minute,’ but I don’t want to be that way.”
The communities that have the worst problems associated with growth are the ones that failed to plan for development, Byrd said, and managing growth is key.
“With growth comes growing pains but I firmly believe that we are smart enough and we have the ability to do both, but that growth has to be managed.”
One problem currently facing Nassau County is sea level rise and its impact on coastal communities. Byrd said that, regardless of whether sea level rise is or is not a man-made phenomenon, it is up to government to address the problem, along with other issues surrounding Florida’s waterways. He said he has sponsored appropriations to mitigate the effects of sea level rise and to protect the quality of the state’s rivers, lakes and oceans.
Byrd recently declined an invitation to participate in a candidate forum sponsored by Atlantic Beach Preservation and the Jacksonville League of Women Voters. He told the News-Leader he declined the invitation because the organization that held the event was “partisan” and that he already has his campaign events scheduled. The League of Women Voters calls itself “non-partisan,” while Atlantic Beach Preservation says it works “to inform and promote citizen participation in our city government to ensure the preservation of our citizens’ quality of life.”
Looking to the future, Byrd noted that if he is re-elected this year he could run for another term 2022, but state Sen. Aaron Bean will also face the end of his current role in 2022 due to term limits. That might play a part in Byrd’s future plans.
“I am looking at that and will make a decision over the next two years of whether I will pursue a final term in the House or if I will pursue the Senate seat,” he said. “I’m on the ballot in November and the people decide whether or not they trust me to represent them in
Tallahassee. I think we’ve
done a lot of big things over the last four years and I look forward to going back, with their consent.”