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Florida GOP suspends chairman and calls for resignation amid rape allegation

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Florida's Republican Party is trying to oust its leader. Now, first, a warning - this story does mention sexual situations and allegations of assault. The chairman of the state Republican Party is accused of rape, and yesterday the group's executive committee held an emergency meeting and suspended him. Here's NPR's Sarah McCammon.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Florida Republican Party Chairman Christian Ziegler is facing accusations from a woman who says she had a previous consensual sexual encounter with Ziegler and his wife, Bridget. But the woman told police that about a year later, she agreed to another sexual encounter with the couple, then canceled after she learned Bridget would not be there. She says Christian Ziegler then came to her home alone and raped her. He has denied that charge. Now Florida Republicans want Ziegler to resign, says Vice Chairman Evan Power.

EVAN POWER: You know, I expected him to step down a number of days ago.

MCCAMMON: Power says the party's executive board voted to call for Ziegler's resignation, reduced his salary to $1 and delegated his authority to other officials, leaving him what Power describes as chairman in name only. Ziegler was present at the sometimes-contentious closed-door meeting and fought to hold onto his position, arguing that the allegations were politically motivated, Power says.

POWER: The chairman was there and defended himself and the actions that he took. And people kind of pushed back on him and then censured him, despite his need to not tell us all the details because he was under a legal investigation.

MCCAMMON: Bridget Ziegler was one of the co-founders of the conservative group Moms for Liberty, which has fought to remove educational materials about LGBTQ people from public schools. She's now a member of the Sarasota County School Board, where she's also faced calls to resign because of the scandal. Christian Ziegler has faced mounting calls to step down from the Florida GOP as the scandal has hung over the party at a pivotal moment, just ahead of the presidential primary season. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who's running for the Republican nomination, told reporters recently that Ziegler is innocent until proven guilty, but that it's time for him to step aside.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RON DESANTIS: I hope the charges aren't true. I've known him. I've known Bridget. They've been friends. But the mission is more important.

MCCAMMON: Evan Power says the party can't afford to be distracted right now.

POWER: That's what everyone's concern is. If this continued to hang over our heads, we wouldn't be effective - as effective in 2024 as we were in 2022 and 2020. So that's why people want to move ahead in an expedited fashion and bring this in for a close.

MCCAMMON: Florida Republican Party leaders are scheduled to meet again next month, when they're expected to officially oust Ziegler if he hasn't already resigned.

Sarah McCammon, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF CRAZYJAZZ AND CHILL SELECT'S "PASTIMES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.