Florida Republicans Oust State Party Chairman Facing Rape Allegations

January 8, 2024by Brendan Farrington, Associated Press
Florida Republicans Oust State Party Chairman Facing Rape Allegations
Sarasota County School Board member Bridget Ziegler listens to public comments on Dec. 12, 2023, after her fellow school board members approved a resolution calling on her to resign. (Mike Lang/Sarasota Herald-Tribune via AP, File)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The Republican Party of Florida ousted Chairman Christian Ziegler in a special vote on Monday as police investigate a rape accusation against him, a vote that came the week before Gov. Ron DeSantis competes in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucus.

The party suspended Ziegler last month and demanded his resignation, saying he can’t effectively lead during a critical election year with the allegations, which Ziegler denies, swirling around him. Gov. Ron DeSantis, U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, and other Republican leaders have called on Ziegler to step down, but he has refused.

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.

“We have to move past this and have to focus on 2024,” said state Sen. Joe Gruters, who preceded Ziegler as party chair. “Florida’s one of the most important states for the Republicans and we have to continue to bring home victories, especially for Rick Scott and the top of the ticket with Trump as our nominee, eventually.”

Beyond the rape accusation, there is another troublesome element for the party. Under DeSantis, Florida has stripped rights away from LGBTQ+ Floridians and banned instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation in schools.

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 GOP-controlled Florida 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.

Christian Ziegler has not been charged with a crime and says he is innocent, contending the encounter was consensual.

Bridget Ziegler is not accused of any crime. The Sarasota School Board asked her 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, even though it was raised by a member of the public who said her hypocrisy should disqualify her from serving.

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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