Florida GOP votes to censure Christian Ziegler, slash his pay amid sex scandal

The Republican Party of Florida’s executive board has formally censured state Chair Christian Ziegler. A document made public by members slams Ziegler for injuring the “good name of the Republican Party.”

The party also voted to schedule a meeting of the full Executive Committee in Tallahassee on Jan. 8. Ziegler will most likely be formally removed from the post, and a new chair will be elected.

The executive board voted to reduce Ziegler’s salary to $1, far less than the $120,000 salary promised to state chairs, and the executive board discussed taking immediate action to remove him. He can no longer have any personal expenses reimbursed by the party. All motions passed 39-0.

“The Republican Party of Florida stands for transparency and accountability,” Vice Chair Evan Power told the press afterward. “Today, we took an appropriate action to bring accountability to one of our members. It was a hard moment for many of us because we elected a chairman, and we expected him to hold out that duty. But the charges against him are serious in nature. And we cannot move forward as an organization without a new leader.”

All this comes as a sex scandal threatens Ziegler’s ability to raise money and represent the state party heading into a presidential election year.

Ziegler remains under active criminal investigation for rape. A woman accused Ziegler in October of raping her in a Sarasota apartment. Ziegler admits to a sexual encounter but said it was consensual. Ziegler and his wife, Sarasota County School Board member Bridget Ziegler, admitted to police that they had a prior three-way sexual encounter with the woman.

While video of the encounter taken by Ziegler on his phone and obtained by police reportedly contradicts portions of the accuser’s account, digital messages between Christian Ziegler and the woman show she told Ziegler not to come to her place the day of the sex after learning Bridget Ziegler would not be present.

Ziegler attended the meeting and told members he remains constrained to speak to specifics of the case thanks to the ongoing criminal investigation. He did apologize to members, but only for his actions putting the party through the scandal and for members needing to convene in Orlando. He suggested once that concludes, members will learn elements of the accusation are untrue. But while members described Ziegler as appearing red-faced with shame, he made no apologies for any of the behavior to which he already admitted. He did not address the press afterward.

Michael Thompson, Lee County Republican Executive Committee chair, said Ziegler did appear self-reflective in his eyes.

“He apologized for the shame that this brought upon him and his family and community and things,” Thompson said. “Yeah, he was he was remorseful. Again, he’s not a bad guy. He just did a real stupid thing and he’s gonna have to suffer the consequences.”

Ziegler also told members many in the room had been convicted of drug use or had otherwise admittedly broken the law or committed acts they would not like publicly aired.

But several said that regardless of whether Ziegler ultimately faces a rape charge, years holding his family out as an example of conservative values simply didn’t jive with his personal behavior.

Power was the one who sought the special meeting of the party’s 40-member executive board to discuss how to deal with Ziegler. That meeting was scheduled after 33 members signed onto the call, though there was debate at the meeting as to whether Power lacked the authority to call it as long as Ziegler remained in power.

Compass Legal Group drafted a legal opinion at Ziegler’s request that suggested that because the meeting was improperly called, no executive board action would be binding. Seeking legal counsel suggests Ziegler may legally fight the suspension of his pay and, ultimately, his potential removal.

But Power said after consulting with multiple experts on parliamentary procedure.

“The meeting was in order,” Power said.

The board ultimately decided it had the authority to act independently of Ziegler’s desires and that Power could lead the meeting because Ziegler had a financial conflict of interest.

And while there was discussion ahead of the meeting about whether rules required a tribunal or trial for Ziegler, Power said legal counsel ultimately deemed that unnecessary. The next step will be the board meeting in January, which Power is expected to lead. That meeting must be scheduled if 30 members of the entire state committee sign a letter calling for one. That threshold was met before the session ended as a letter was passed to executive board members alone.

But he was greeted with a generally hostile board membership, with no one standing up in his defense. National Committee member Peter Feaman encouraged members to let Ziegler speak. Still, others voiced extreme anger at the state Chair, with one source comparing criticisms to piranhas attacking people who step in a river.

To date, Ziegler has rebuffed calls for his resignation from every statewide elected official in the state.

While some allies of Ziegler maintain the party should hold back from sanctions until a criminal investigation concludes, even many of those say Ziegler must resign for the sake of the party.

“We greatly wish this will be over soon,” said Jack Brill, Republican Party of Sarasota Chair and Ziegler’s home chapter leader. The county party has called for Ziegler to resign as state Chair and from the State Committee position representing Sarasota County.

“We appreciate obviously the board did everything that they thought was the appropriate actions for today,” Brill said. “It’s just as a sad day for all of us in Florida, and I hope that this is the beginning first step of our Sarasota community, our county, our party, our elected officials, our children, that this is the first step in the healing process, which will take a while to do.”

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