Pete Antonacci, in charge of Florida's newly established office investigating election crimes, passed away on Friday, according to the governor's office. He had 74 years under his belt.
In a statement, the Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, referred to Antonacci as "a dedicated, tenacious, and assiduous public servant, lawyer, and respected professional — a friend to all in the State of Florida." Antonacci was also called "a friend to all in Florida."
The Republican governor said that people will miss his "fighting passion" and that his legacy will live on in people's hearts and minds for a long time.
The office of DeSantis did not provide any information regarding the cause of death.
During a meeting with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and others on Friday at the state Capitol in Tallahassee, David Fierro, a spokesman for the department, told CNN that Antonacci had experienced a medical episode. The incident prompted the state Capitol Police to respond.
Antonacci held numerous positions throughout a long and distinguished career in government, including a deputy attorney general and statewide prosecutor. He was also appointed to sit on several boards and commissions. Several governors turned to Antonacci to challenge positions or clean up messes. In 2019, shortly after DeSantis took office, the Broward elections supervisor resigned, and the governor chose Antonacci to fill the vacancy.
More recently, DeSantis selected Antonacci to fill the newly created position of director of the Office of Election Crimes and Security, which is charged with looking into Florida's electoral process. In response to unfounded fears of voter fraud, Democrats and voting rights organizations warned that the new office would intimidate voters and described it as an unnecessary response. However, the appointment of Antonacci calmed some detractors.
The office received criticism when DeSantis and Antonacci announced the arrest of 20 ex-felons for casting illegal ballots in the 2020 election. It was questioned whether the state could demonstrate that the individuals arrested had the intent to commit voter fraud, which is required by law, given that lawyers for several of the people detained claimed that state or local election offices had informed their clients they were eligible to vote.
The letter Antonacci wrote to the local election supervisors absolving them of any responsibility for failing to stop those people from voting also caused a stir. DeSantis had suggested that the supervisors' improper maintenance of their voter rolls might be the cause.
Many public servants Antonacci worked for or with during his four decades in government posted condolences for him on social media. "I feel honored to have known Pete, who leaves behind a remarkable legacy of service to Florida," Republican Sen. Rick Scott on Twitter about when he appointed Antonacci as his general counsel while serving as governor.
Democrat and state attorney for Palm Beach County, Dave Aronberg, tweeted, "Because it didn't matter, I was unaware that he was a Republican working for a Democratic AG. Pete consistently prioritized the public good and the rule of law over partisanship."