TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — In a special vote on Monday, the Republican Party of Florida removed Chairman Christian Ziegler from his position as police continue to investigate a rape accusation against him.
The timing of this turmoil presents an unwelcome distraction for Florida's top Republican, Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has been campaigning in Iowa for the upcoming presidential caucus—the first of its kind in the nation.
During a closed-door meeting attended by approximately 200 members of the Florida GOP, a vast majority approved the ouster in a voice vote. Ziegler did not attend the meeting, and according to Republican state Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, former party chair and participant in the vote, no one spoke in favor of Ziegler.
Ingoglia expressed his disappointment, stating, "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. There's been some harm done to the Republican Party of Florida."
Evan Power, the vice chair of the state GOP, was elected as Ziegler's replacement. After the vote, he expressed gratitude to everyone and stated that he looked forward to working with them.
Last month, the party suspended Ziegler and demanded his resignation, arguing that he couldn't effectively lead during a critical election year while facing allegations of this nature. Several prominent Republican leaders, including DeSantis, U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, had also called for Ziegler's resignation.
Ziegler maintains his innocence and denies the accusations, stating that his encounter with the accuser was consensual. He has refrained from stepping down and has not been charged with any crime. Ziegler did not respond to a text message seeking comment on Monday's meeting and has not addressed the media since the investigation became public.
Although DeSantis seeks the GOP nomination for president, he currently lags far behind former President Donald Trump, who also resides in Florida. Additionally, Scott is seeking reelection, and Florida will play a pivotal role in determining control of the U.S. House.
Florida U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, who also participated in Monday's vote, expressed his belief that the scandal would not have a lasting impact on the party.
According to Gaetz, the upcoming election will be influenced by voters' concerns about their safety, financial stability, and the future prospects of their families. Despite internal conflicts within the political party, such drama is unlikely to be a major factor in voters' decision-making process.
The Political Landscape
The voting took place just before DeSantis was scheduled to deliver his annual State of the State address and the Republican-dominated Legislature began its annual session.
A Complex Personal Situation
Christian Ziegler, along with his wife Bridget Ziegler, has acknowledged having a consensual sexual relationship with a woman who has accused Christian of rape. Bridget Ziegler is an elected member of the Sarasota School Board and a co-founder of Moms for Liberty, a conservative activist group that has successfully supported the election of members to school boards nationwide. It is important to clarify that Bridget Ziegler has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
Ties and Appointments
Bridget Ziegler was also appointed by DeSantis last year to serve on the board of the governing district for Walt Disney World. This appointment was made after DeSantis and the Legislature gained control of the district as a response to Disney's public opposition to a state law prohibiting early-grade classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity—a law that DeSantis strongly supported.
The Sarasota Police Department is currently investigating the accusation that Ziegler raped the woman in her apartment back in October. According to police documents, there was originally a plan for a consensual threesome involving Christian Ziegler, Bridget Ziegler, and the accuser. However, Bridget Ziegler was unable to attend, and it was during this encounter that the assault allegedly took place.
Last month, the Sarasota School Board requested the resignation of Bridget Ziegler due to the ongoing situation. However, she refused to step down. At their meeting, the DeSantis-appointed board members overseeing Disney World's governing district did not directly address Bridget Ziegler's circumstances.
Critics have pointed out the Zieglers' hypocrisy, as they have been vocal opponents of LGBTQ+ rights while being involved in a relationship with another woman.