Florida Republicans remove party chair’s authority, citing moral leadership concerns.

Ziegler had for weeks faced calls from top Florida Republicans to step down, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott and legislative leaders. Party members Sunday said they were enraged that Ziegler wouldn’t resign voluntarily and had allowed the situation to escalate, forcing them to travel from all over the state to hold a meeting in the middle of a holiday season and during a weekend of heavy storms.

The party’s executive board voted during a less than two-hour meeting to reduce Ziegler’s salary and suspend his reimbursements, which together had been about $124,000 a year, and set a three-week countdown to formally oust him from his position. Multiple people who left the ballroom where the meeting was being held described the atmosphere as “very tense.”

“You can’t morally lead the Republican Party forward,” given the allegations, Evan Power, the vice chair of the group who is temporarily in charge of the Florida GOP, said after leaving the meeting. He added that Ziegler had the right to defend himself legally but that the party was facing a “political problem” given the details of the case that have emerged.

Power didn’t address a report in Florida Politics that Ziegler asked for a $2 million payout, though two Republicans who agreed to speak with POLITICO on conditions of anonymity — given that the meeting was supposed to be closed-door and confidential — said Ziegler called the payout a lie and challenged those present to speak up if he’d asked for the money. Nobody came forward.

Ziegler has maintained that he’s innocent of rape allegations. A video of the encounter obtained by police and detailed to the Florida Center for Government Accountability — the watchdog group that first broke the story — appears to refute certain claims from the woman who made the allegations.

The allegations and Ziegler’s defiance, however, have put state Republicans in a deeply awkward position. His refusal to step down has forced party members to deal with an ongoing embarrassment ahead of the 2024 elections — a time when members would rather be planning fundraising and strategy sessions instead of seeking ways to oust their party leader.

Republicans will gather again in Tallahassee on Jan. 8, 2024, to formally vote on whether to oust Ziegler from his position and to vote on a new chair.

Ziegler did not speak to reporters after the closed-door meeting and snuck in through the back before it started. He did not respond to requests for comment.

It’s not clear how long the police investigation will last before police decide whether to recommend charges or refer the case to the state attorney. Bridget Ziegler, a close DeSantis ally and a Sarasota County school board member, didn’t attend Sunday’s meeting.

According to three people present in the room, granted anonymity to discuss closed-door proceedings, Ziegler told the group that he couldn’t say much publicly because of the ongoing police investigation but was confident he wouldn’t be charged when the investigation was over.

Ziegler, in defending himself, also confronted the group about state Republicans who had faced criminal charges or accusations in the past, including driving under the influence of alcohol, said Bill Helmich, Madison County State committeeman, who described the atmosphere as “contentious.”

Two other executive board members confirmed the exchange and didn’t want to be named because they abstained from voting with the group. “When it’s that overwhelming against somebody, you don’t want to be the lone two or three people to pipe up,” one of them said.

The other, who described Ziegler as “red like he was ashamed,” wanted Ziegler to resign voluntarily but said he deserved a chance to have the police investigation come to a close.

“They remind me of the fish in South American rivers that eat people — like piranhas,” said the executive board member of colleagues, who asked to remain anonymous because, “I don’t want them to do to me what they’re doing to him.”

Some members who wanted Ziegler out said they’d already been frustrated with his lackluster fundraising. One executive committee member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that four GOP voters told them they were changing their party registration to become unaffiliated because of the allegations and revelations against Ziegler.

“I have gotten nothing done in three weeks because of this,” the person said, citing numerous conference calls party leaders have had to ensure they follow the proper procedures in order to avoid opening themselves up to lawsuits.

Michael Thompson, chair of the Lee County Republican Executive Committee, said several members on Sunday told Ziegler to hurry up and finish his remarks because they had places to be. Members of the group expressed that they were “frustrated and disappointed” that he wouldn’t drop out voluntarily.

No one spoke out to defend Ziegler’s actions, Thompson added, though a couple of members shushed the group so that their chair could be heard.

Vic Baker, an executive board member from Volusia County, said he urged the group to consider giving Ziegler a leave of absence until the police investigation was over, and allowing Powers to temporarily lead the party in the meantime.

“I know Christian wanted to be able to clear his name of the criminal aspects of this,” Baker said. “It was clear from reading the room that he wasn’t going to be given that option.”

Ziegler also handed out a letter from Compass Legal Group to some members ahead of the meeting, per a screengrab obtained by POLITICO, that stated the gathering was “improperly called” due to stipulations about such meetings in the bylaws and that “any action it purports to take on behalf of the Executive Board will be illegal.”

Former President Donald Trump hasn’t weighed in on Ziegler’s fate and his campaign didn’t respond to questions about his position on the matter. Trump hosted Ziegler and hundreds of county GOP leaders at his Mar-a-Lago estate last month to show appreciation for their volunteer efforts. At the time, the rape allegations hadn’t been made public.

Bridget Ziegler last week refused to resign from the Sarasota School Board despite the board calling for her to step down. DeSantis has the authority to remove her but hasn’t commented on her position and his office has ignored questions about it.

Bridget Ziegler also continues to serve on the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, the DeSantis-appointed governing body for the area surrounding Walt Disney World. DeSantis and the GOP-supermajority Legislature overhauled the area after the parks entertainment giant objected to a school curriculum law restricting LGBTQ+ instruction in public schools, one critics have called “Don’t Say Gay.”

Christian Ziegler, the chairman of the Florida Republican Party, is facing calls to step down amid rape allegations. Top Florida Republicans, including Governor Ron DeSantis and Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, have demanded his resignation. Despite the pressure, Ziegler has refused to step down voluntarily. In response, the party’s executive board has voted to reduce his salary, suspend his reimbursements, and set a three-week countdown to formally oust him from his position. Ziegler has maintained his innocence and challenged the allegations. The situation has put state Republicans in an uncomfortable position as they navigate the fallout ahead of the 2024 elections. A police investigation is ongoing, and it is unclear how long it will take before charges or recommendations are made. Ziegler did not speak to reporters after the meeting and did not respond to requests for comment. The party will gather again in January 2024 to vote on whether to remove Ziegler from his position and select a new chair.

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