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Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Florida Republican Party Removes Chairman Amid Criminal Investigation

In a significant development, the Republican Party of Florida ousted its chairman, Christian Ziegler, during a meeting in Tallahassee on Monday. This move comes over a month after the Sarasota police confirmed that Ziegler was under criminal investigation for allegations of sexual assault. The decision to remove Ziegler, who had resisted calls for his resignation, was met with a voice vote by approximately 200 party members.

The prolonged controversy had kept Ziegler in the headlines, as he resisted stepping down despite mounting pressure. In mid-December, the state party’s executive committee had censured him, stripping him of his duties and an annual salary of $120,000. Prominent Republicans, including Governor Ron DeSantis and Senator Rick Scott, had urged Ziegler to step aside due to the serious nature of the accusations.

Evan Power, the head of the Leon County Republican Party in Tallahassee and the state party’s vice chairman, has now taken over as the new chairman, replacing Ziegler. The voice vote to remove Ziegler included a statement declaring that he was no longer a member in good standing with the party.

Ziegler, aged 40, did not attend the meeting, and he has not immediately responded to requests for comment. The criminal investigation against Ziegler was initiated in late November when a woman accused him of raping her in October. Ziegler, however, has not been charged and vehemently denies any wrongdoing.

According to a police report and search warrant affidavit, Ziegler claimed that the sexual encounter on October 2 was consensual. The woman involved had previously engaged in consensual relations with Ziegler and his wife over a year ago. However, on the specified date, she declined to participate after realizing that Ziegler’s wife would not be involved. The woman alleged that Ziegler later went to her apartment uninvited and sexually assaulted her. Ziegler, in his statement to the police, mentioned that he had filmed the encounter.

Apart from the sexual assault investigation, Ziegler is also being looked into for video voyeurism, as reported by the Florida Center for Government Accountability, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. The organization was the first to disclose details of the criminal investigation.

The ongoing investigation has led to additional consequences, with calls for Ziegler’s wife, Bridget Ziegler, to resign from her position as an elected member of the Sarasota County School Board. The board itself passed a resolution last month, urging Ms. Ziegler to step down, citing the distraction caused by the controversy surrounding her and her husband. Notably, Ms. Ziegler was the sole member to vote against the nonbinding resolution, and she has remained on the board.

Ms. Ziegler, aged 41, is a conservative activist known for promoting anti-L.G.B.T.Q. policies in schools and co-founding the right-wing group Moms for Liberty. She confirmed to the police her participation in the previous consensual encounter with the woman.

The removal of Ziegler comes at a time when the Republican Party of Florida, like its counterparts in other states, has experienced a decline in influence. National and state candidates have increasingly pursued independent political operations, diminishing the legacy party structure. Nevertheless, the Zieglers had been a notable political force in Sarasota, a hub of right-wing activism.

Ziegler’s election as party chairman in February marked a race where he was seen as an ally of former President Donald J. Trump, contrasting with Evan Power, who aligned more closely with Governor DeSantis. With Ziegler’s removal and Power’s ascent to the chairmanship, it remains to be seen how this reshuffling will impact the dynamics within the Florida Republican Party.

Jonathan James
Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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