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Florida GOP elects new chairman after Ziegler ousted amid sexual assault allegation

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Republican Party of Florida has ousted its chairman, Christian Ziegler. The police are investigating him over an allegation of sexual assault. Tristan Wood with WFSU says a new head of the party has already been named.

TRISTAN WOOD, BYLINE: The writing has been on the wall for Ziegler since statements in a heavily redacted police report became public in November. It details accusations of sexual assault and battery against the woman with whom he and his wife, Moms for Liberty co-founder Bridget Ziegler, had previously engaged in a consensual sexual relationship. Ziegler denies the accusation, but Florida's top Republicans, including Governor Ron DeSantis, have been unified in calling for Ziegler's removal.

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RON DESANTIS: I don't see how he can continue with that investigation ongoing, giving the gravity of those situations. And so I think that he should - I think he should step aside. I think he should tend to that. He's innocent until proven guilty, but we just can't have a party chair that is under that type of scrutiny.

WOOD: Ziegler refused to resign until he was officially given the boot. That happened on Monday in a closed-door meeting of the state party. Vice chair Evan Power was selected to take his place. Power says his selection will help quiet outside noise and position Republicans for a successful election year.

EVAN POWER: The Republican Party is bigger than any one person, and we're ready to move forward. And we're going to continue winning because we're the conservative model of America. I think what we have is a unified Republican Party that's ready to continue the victories into 2024.

WOOD: But Democrats, like Florida House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell, say this shakeup indicates otherwise.

FENTRICE DRISKELL: There are fractures in the Republican Party. They certainly don't have their stuff together right now. We certainly have ours together. And we're going to keep building power brick by brick so that we can deliver for the people of Florida.

WOOD: It is unlikely that this will shift GOP voters to the Democratic Party. But with DeSantis and former President Donald Trump both running for president, rifts have grown amongst the state's GOP officials. Most state legislators are lined up behind the governor while Florida's national representatives are backing Trump. That internal party turmoil likely won't slow the Republican Party's state momentum. Their voter registration lead over Democrats grew to over half a million in 2023.

For NPR News, I'm Tristan Wood. 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.

Tristan Wood