Even Power is selected as Florida GOP chair to replace the fired Christian Ziegler

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Christian Ziegler
Suncoast Tiger Bay panel on immigration with CJ Czaia and Christian Ziegler. 2017. By Seán Kinane/WMNF News.

By Jim Turner ©2024 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — The state Republican Party’s executive committee Monday removed embattled Chair Christian Ziegler and elevated Vice Chair Evan Power to lead the party as the 2024 election year gets underway.

Power said after the meeting the party is “moving forward.” While acknowledging a pause in fundraising, he said he didn’t anticipate lingering effects from the scandal surrounding Ziegler, who has been under police investigation because of an alleged sexual assault.

“I think it’s a blip on the radar,” Power said. “I think we’re going to be able to pick up today fundraising-wise and move the party forward. So, I don’t think there’s going to be a long-term impact. I think you’re going to see us win big again in November.”

Most of the party’s more than 250 committee members, meeting at the Tallahassee Conference Center near Interstate 10, agreed in a voice vote to remove Ziegler from the $120,000-a-year position.

Ziegler, who did not attend the meeting, has disputed the assault allegations, contending that he had consensual sex with the accuser, who had previously been involved with Ziegler and his wife, Bridget, a member of the Sarasota County School Board.

But the allegations drew national attention and led to top Florida GOP leaders calling for Christian Ziegler to step down.

The committee voted 135-65 to elect Power, the Leon County Republican Party chair, over Peter Feaman, an attorney from Boynton Beach who is in his third term as Florida’s Republican national committeeman.

Power is a lobbyist who has overseen the party’s daily operations since mid-December.

“The Republican Party of Florida is bigger than one person,” Power said. “And what we did today is to come together and move to close this chapter.”

Ziegler, with the backing of supporters of former President Donald Trump, won the party chair in February over Power, who had backing from supporters of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

But before Monday’s vote, Power was endorsed by DeSantis and pulled in Trump supporters.

Addressing reporters before the Republican meeting, Florida Democratic leaders raised questions about the GOP leadership, saying it was more focused on culture-war issues than health care and property insurance.

“They certainly don’t have their stuff together right now,” House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, said “I feel like Democrats are in an era where we really are trying to build back power, brick by brick. We have a platform that, I think, includes policies that the people of Florida actually want to see.”

Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried said that because of the Republican agenda heading into the 2024 legislative session, which starts Tuesday, it doesn’t matter who runs the state GOP.

“Regardless of who is chair of this party, their moral compass is completely broken,” Fried said. “They have no direction. They have no agenda. Their agenda is how to hurt more Floridians.”

But U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican who is close to Trump and supported Power, doesn’t anticipate Ziegler leaving a negative legacy on the party.

“I think people vote on their own economic interests, their own physical safety,” Gaetz said before going into the meeting room. “That’s where Republicans have really been delivering for people in the state of Florida. And I don’t think that kind of the cloak-and-dagger chambers of party leadership really motivate voters on the right or the left.”

In December, the GOP’s executive board stripped Ziegler of his authority as chair and cut his salary to $1. Daily functions of the party were turned over to Power.

Ziegler has been the subject of an investigation by the Sarasota Police Department since being accused Oct. 4 of the alleged sexual assault. No charges have been filed, and Ziegler rejected calls to exit as party chair.

Bridget Ziegler, who helped organize the Moms For Liberty conservative political group, is not involved in the criminal complaint.

But she has faced calls to step down from the Sarasota County School Board and from her appointed position on the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District Board of Supervisors, which helps govern property that includes Walt Disney World. DeSantis appointed her to the Central Florida board.

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