DeSantis chooses new Secretary of State after first pick resigns over racially offensive photos

Laurel Lee, Florida Secretary of State

Governor Ron DeSantis has selected Hillsborough Circuit Court Judge Laurel Lee to be Florida’s new Secretary of State – just four days after his original pick for the job resigned in disgrace. Lee was among the list of 59 candidates who applied to the Judicial Nominating Commission for the recent openings at the U.S. Supreme Court last fall. She’s also married to Hillsborough County Republican state Senator Tom Lee.

“It is clear to me that Judge Lee’s background and experience make her an excellent choice to serve as Secretary of State,” DeSantis said in a statement. “She is ready to handle the important elections administration duties and cultural responsibilities accorded to this position with a steady hand and good judgement.”

Although Lee has never worked in overseeing elections, she does have an extensive background in the legal world. She has served as a Circuit Court Judge in Florida’s 13th Judicial Circuit in Hillsborough County since 2013, when she was appointed by then-Gov. Rick Scott. She won reelection without opposition in 2014.

Before that, she served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Middle District of Florida, as  an Assistant Federal Public Defender in the Middle District Court and as a judicial law clerk to U.S. District Court Judge James Moody (whose daughter Ashley is the new Florida Attorney General.)

Lee replaces Michael Ertel, who resigned last Thursday shortly after photos emerged of him posing as a Hurricane Katrina victim in blackface at a private Halloween party 14 years ago, just a couple of months after the massive storm barreled through Louisiana, killing more than 1,800 people. He was the Seminole County Supervisor of Elections at the time.

DeSantis called the situation  “unfortunate,” saying that Ertel had done “a lot of good work” since being appointed at the end of December.

Lee faces confirmation by the Florida Senate when it meets this spring.

Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry has spent the past 18 years covering news and politics in the Sunshine State, most recently with FloridaPolitics.com. He worked for five years as the political editor of Creative Loafing in Tampa, and before that he was the assistant news director at WMNF radio, where he served as creator/anchor/producer of the hour-long WMNF Evening News. A San Francisco native, Mitch began his career at KPFA Radio in Berkeley in the 1990's.

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