Florida GOP ousts chairman Christian Ziegler amid rape accusation

Christian Ziegler (C) on Election Day 2023. (Photo via Ziegler’s Facebook)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) | The Republican Party of Florida ousted Chairman Christian Ziegler and elected his replacement in a special vote on Jan. 8 as police investigate a rape accusation against him.

The turmoil was an unwelcome distraction for the state’s top Republican, Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has been in Iowa campaigning in the final days before the crucial first-in-the-nation presidential caucus.

A vast majority of about 200 Florida GOP members approved the ouster in a voice vote during a closed-door meeting that Ziegler did not attend, according to Republican state Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, a former party chair who participated in the vote. He said no one spoke in favor of Ziegler.

“We’re spending a lot of time and energy on this meeting instead of focusing on the things we need to focus on and that’s simply because Christian Ziegler did not do the right thing and resign,” Ingoglia said. “There’s been some harm done to the Republican Party of Florida.”

Evan Power, the vice chair of the state GOP, was chosen to replace Ziegler. After the vote, he thanked everyone and said he looked forward to working with them.

The party suspended Ziegler last month and demanded his resignation, saying he couldn’t effectively lead during a critical election year with the allegations swirling around him. DeSantis, U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, and other Republican leaders had also called on Ziegler to step down.

Ziegler has denied the accusations, saying his encounter with the accuser was consensual, and has refused to quit. He has not been charged with a crime. He didn’t return a text message seeking comment on the meeting and hasn’t addressed the news media since the investigation was made public.

DeSantis is seeking the GOP nomination for president, but ahead of the Jan. 15 Iowa caucus he trails far behind former President Donald Trump, who also is a Floridian. Scott is running for reelection. Florida also will play a key role in determining control of the U.S. House.

Florida U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, who also participated in the vote, said he didn’t think the scandal would have a lasting effect on the party.

“It hasn’t been the most comfortable thing to go through, human frailty never is, but people are going to be voting based on their physical safety, their economic security and what they think are the brightest prospects of their family,” Gaetz said. “Intraparty drama is rarely a driving voting issue.”

The vote also came the day before DeSantis was scheduled to give his annual State of the State address and the Republican-dominated Legislature begins its annual session.

Ziegler and his wife, Bridget Ziegler, have admitted to police that they previously had a consensual sexual relationship with Christian Ziegler’s accuser. Bridget Ziegler is an elected member of the Sarasota School Board and co-founder of Moms for Liberty, a national conservative activist group that has successfully gotten members elected to school boards across the U.S. She has not been accused of a crime.

Bridget Ziegler also was appointed by DeSantis last year to the board of the governing district for Walt Disney World. DeSantis and the Legislature last year took control of the district in retaliation after Disney publicly opposed a state law banning classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades. The law was championed by DeSantis.

The Sarasota Police Department is investigating the woman’s accusation that Ziegler raped her at her apartment in October. Police documents say the Zieglers and the woman had planned a sexual threesome that day, but Bridget Ziegler was unable to attend. The accuser says Christian Ziegler arrived anyway and assaulted her.

The Sarasota School Board asked Bridget Ziegler to resign last month but she refused. DeSantis-appointed board members of the Disney World governing district made no direct mention of Bridget Ziegler’s situation at their meeting last month.

The couple have been outspoken opponents of LGBTQ+ rights, and their relationship with another woman has sparked criticism and accusations of hypocrisy.

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