House Speaker saga introduces FL GOP Rep. Byron Donalds to the national stage
Naples Republican attracted support as the votes continued for third day
Florida’s Byron Donalds is pictured while a member of the Florida House in 2019. He is now serving in the U.S. House of Representatives. Credit: Colin Hackley
Florida Republican Congressman Byron Donalds finished a distant third Thursday night in the five different votes for Speaker for the U.S. House of Representatives with 19, 17, 17, 13 and 12 votes, respectively, trailing Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries and embattled GOP leader Kevin McCarthy.
While the odds are steep that Donalds will actually emerge as the next House Speaker, his nomination as an alternative to McCarthy by a group of conservative GOP House members has catapulted the Naples Republican to national prominence as he begins just his second term representing Florida’s 19th Congressional District.
The 44-year-old was born and raised in Brooklyn and graduated from Florida State University in 2002, where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in finance and marketing. His career then took him to Southwest Florida, where he worked in banking, finance, and insurance.
Donalds first ran for Congress in 2012 but came in fifth in a six-person Republican primary. He filed to run in 2014 but ultimately stood down. His electoral career recommenced in 2016, when he won election to the Florida House of Representatives.
Following two terms there, Donalds narrowly won a Republican primary for his congressional district in 2020 (winning by less than 1 percentage point over state House Republican Dane Eagle) before easily defeating Democrat Cindy Banyai by more than 22 percentage points in the general election. He beat Banyai in a rematch last November by 36 points.
‘Shall not be infringed’
Donalds is unabashedly conservative. On guns, he writes on his website, “I have proudly stood against gun control legislation that infringes upon your rights throughout my public service career,” adding, “My viewpoint on the 2nd Amendment is simple: Shall Not Be Infringed, means Shall Not Be Infringed.”
Regarding the Affordable Care Act, he calls it “a ruse by the federal government to seize control over the health care and insurance industry, slowly leading the U.S. to a single-payer socialist system.”
He supports a balanced budget amendment to bring down federal spending, and co-sponsored legislation in 2021 to combat critical race theory, which he calls “a warped ideology that seeks to divide Americans and relitigate the sins of the past by pinning White Americans against Black Americans, which is counterproductive and doesn’t belong anywhere near our children.”
And he’s a strong supporter of the school choice movement that allows families to attend schools outside of their traditional neighborhood zone. In a February 2022 op-ed published in the Tampa Bay Times, Donalds wrote that, when he was a young child living in inner-city Brooklyn, his mother recognized that the public-school education he was receiving wasn’t challenging enough and that he needed a better education.
“My mother sacrificed, struggled, and saved pennies to send me to a private school that better fit my academic needs and goals. My mother’s belief in the power of education and her determination to ensure her child achieved academic success is the reason I remain a committed proponent of school choice,” he wrote.
He’s worked with Democrats on criminal justice reform and, while serving in the Florida House, sponsored the Florida First Step Act, which called for expanding employment opportunities post-release by reducing unnecessary burdens and collateral consequences of incarceration.
Donalds is one of only four Black Republicans serving in the 118thHouse of Representatives. In 2021, he told POLITICO that he doesn’t believe systemic racism exists. “One hundred years ago, if you had told me there was systemic racism in the United States, I would’ve said absolutely there was,” Donalds said. “Systemic and institutionalized racism today in the United States. No, no.”
On Wednesday, Cori Bush, a liberal Black U.S. Rep. from St. Louis, brought up the issue of race when she tweeted of Donalds that, “He is a prop. Despite being Black, he supports a policy agenda intent on upholding and perpetuating white supremacy.”
That ignited a fiery response from Republicans such as Jamie Grant, a white former GOP state House member from the Tampa Bay area who served with Donalds in the Legislature and now serves as Florida’s chief information officer.
“The blatant and disingenuous bigotry towards someone who doesn’t toe the company line is the problem here, not Byron,” Grant tweeted Thursday morning.
North Carolina Republican Dan Bishop also denounced Bush’s comments.
“I’ve spent a good deal of time with Mr. Donalds, especially lately,” Bishop said on the House floor on Thursday. “He ain’t no prop,” he said, prompting a standing ovation by House Republicans. “And if he were a prop, he wouldn’t be sitting where he’s sitting! This is the tired, old, grotesquely racist rhetoric that we’ve seen far too long!”
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