Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is calling for the resignation of Florida GOP Chairman Christian Ziegler, who is ensnared in a police inquiry involving alleged sexual battery.
“I don’t see how he can continue with that investigation ongoing given the gravity of those situations, and so I think that he should, I think he should step aside,” DeSantis, a Republican presidential candidate, told reporters Thursday night. “He’s innocent till proven guilty, but we just can’t have a party chair that is under that type of scrutiny.”
DeSantis’ comments followed an appearance on Fox News with California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) that was billed as a debate between the two governors. DeSantis’ remarks were reported by multiple media outlets.
Police in Sarasota, Fla., are conducting an investigation involving Ziegler, according to a police incident report and a statement from his attorney.
Ziegler is the husband of Sarasota County School Board member and Moms for Liberty co-founder Bridget Ziegler. When asked about the investigation, Sarasota police did not confirm details.
However, they released a heavily redacted police report in response to the Washington Post’s inquiry that includes the words “rape,” “raped” and “sexually battered.” The incident, which the report indicates took place at a home in Sarasota, was reported to police in early October.
Ziegler’s attorney, Derek Byrd, said in a statement, “We acknowledge the reports that there is an investigation being conducted by the Sarasota Police Department regarding Mr. Ziegler.” He added that his client “has been fully cooperative” with police.
“We are confident that once the police investigation is concluded that no charges will be filed and Mr. Ziegler will be completely exonerated,” Byrd added.
Sarasota police confirmed Thursday that the investigation was active.
The Florida Center for Government Accountability first reported on the investigation.
When asked for comment, Christian Ziegler sent the same statement as his attorney. Bridget Ziegler did not respond to a request for comment.
The Zieglers are considered rising stars in Florida’s conservative movement, having become among the most prominent Republicans in the state.
Christian Ziegler rose through the ranks of Florida’s Republican Party to become its chairman in February after serving as the party’s vice chairman and as a Sarasota County commissioner.
Both Zieglers have long-standing ties with DeSantis. They campaigned to reelect DeSantis to the governorship last year, and just last month Christian Ziegler hosted DeSantis, former president Donald Trump and several other Republican presidential candidates at Florida’s Freedom Summit.
Bridget Ziegler, who has served on the Sarasota County School Board since 2014, is a leading advocate for the rights of conservative parents, and she opposes any teaching of critical race theory in the school system. She also helped write Florida’s “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” which served as a precursor to state legislation that limits discussion of LGBTQ+ topics in schools. She was endorsed by DeSantis during her reelection campaign for her school board position last year.
She also was appointed by DeSantis to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District this year. The board oversees Disney’s sprawling Orlando resort, which DeSantis made a political target. He has overhauled the panel by adding handpicked members, including Ziegler.
Florida’s Republican Party said in a statement that it “is aware of the allegations related to Chairman Christian Ziegler.” The party declined to comment further about an ongoing investigation.
The Republican Party of Sarasota County, where the Zieglers have long been active, said in a statement that its members were “shocked and disappointed” about the allegations.
“The Republican Party takes all such allegations of potential criminal conduct very seriously and will fully cooperate with investigators,” the statement said.
Tiffany Justice and Tina Descovich, who co-founded Moms for Liberty with Bridget Ziegler, said in a joint statement that Ziegler had previously stepped back from the organization’s leadership. The group’s spokeswoman, Sierra Kostick, confirmed that Bridget Ziegler retains a spot on the nonprofit organization’s advisory board.
Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried called Thursday for Christian Ziegler’s immediate resignation as chairman of the Florida GOP.
“Christian Ziegler can’t possibly continue to lead the Florida GOP under these conditions,” she said.
Sarah Parker, a Sarasota activist who has battled the Zieglers on county and school board issues, said her first thoughts were about the alleged victim.
“We stand with the victim, and we send strength her way and hope she receives the justice she deserves as we do with any other survivor of sexual violence,” said Parker, the executive director of Women’s Voices of Southwest Florida. “As a Sarasota County resident, I personally hope that investigators take this claim seriously and do their due diligence and not allow the immense influence the Zieglers have over Sarasota County to obstruct or delay the court’s processes and investigation.”