NATIONAL NEWS

Florida school board recommends ouster of Moms for Liberty co-founder over Republican sex scandal

Dec 11, 2023, 9:08 PM

FILE - Bridget Ziegler speaks at the Moms for Liberty meeting in Philadelphia, July 1, 2023. A Flor...

FILE - Bridget Ziegler speaks at the Moms for Liberty meeting in Philadelphia, July 1, 2023. A Florida school board is scheduled to consider whether to seek the resignation of a co-founder of the conservative Moms for Liberty group, who is embroiled in the fallout of a sexual assault investigation into her husband, the Republican Party state chairman. The Sarasota County School Board cannot oust Ziegler outright from the panel but was set to vote Tuesday, Dec. 12 on a resolution requesting that she step down. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, file)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, file)

SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) — A Florida school board voted on Tuesday to recommend the resignation of one of its members because she is embroiled in the fallout of a sexual assault investigation into her husband, the Republican Party state chairman.

The Sarasota County School Board cannot directly remove Bridget Ziegler from the panel but voted 4-1 Tuesday for a resolution requesting that she step down. The resolution was authored by board Chair Karen Rose, who said in an email that she is “shocked and deeply saddened” by the rape allegations involving Ziegler’s husband, Christian Ziegler, and the couple’s admissions about having a three-way sexual encounter previously with the accuser.

“I personally care about Bridget and her family and deeply regret the necessity for this course of action, but given the intense media scrutiny locally and nationally, her continued presence on the Board would cause irreparably harmful distractions to our critical mission,” Rose wrote.

Bridget Ziegler is co-founder of the conservative Moms for Liberty group. She has served on the board since 2014, when she was appointed by then-Gov. Rick Scott, and has previously been its chair. She voted against the resolution, saying she was “disappointed” but gave no indication she would step down. She remained on the board’s dais after the vote.

Prior to the meeting, several dozen people marched outside carrying signs and chanting, “Hey hey, ho ho, Bridget Ziegler has got to go.” Among the signs’ slogans were “Ban Bridget, not books” and “Real women aren’t homophobes.”

“Bridget Ziegler must apologize and resign,” said Carol Lerner of Support Our Schools, a nonprofit group that supports public education. “The Zieglers are through and through grifters.”

Board member Tim Enos said it’s up to Bridget Ziegler to decide whether to quit. Only Florida’s governor can remove a school board member, and only under certain conditions, such as a criminal charge.

“If she continues and doesn’t resign and stays, we have an obligation that we all need to be focused on education,” Enos said. “The politics have to get outside the boardroom. It should be only about the kids.”

The Sarasota Police Department is investigating a woman’s accusation that Christian Ziegler raped her at her apartment in October. Police documents say the Zieglers and the woman had planned a sexual threesome that day, but Bridget Ziegler was unable to make it. The accuser says Christian Ziegler arrived anyway and assaulted her, according to the documents.

Christian Ziegler has not been charged with any crime and maintains his innocence, contending the encounter was consensual. Scott, now a U.S. senator, Gov. Ron DeSantis and other Florida Republicans have called on him to step down as GOP chair, but he has refused to do so.

In a recent message to Florida Republicans, Christian Ziegler said he would remain as chair “because we have a country to save and I am not going to let false allegations of a crime put that mission on the bench as I wait for this process to wrap up.”

Christian Ziegler’s lawyer, Derek Byrd, said in an email Monday that he is “hoping (the) investigation is closed soon.” A Sarasota Police Department spokesperson said there is no timetable for the probe to conclude.

Bridget Ziegler has long been active in conservative politics. She was a champion of the DeSantis-backed law known by critics as “Don’t Say Gay,” which restricts teaching of sexual and gender material in early school grades. Moms for Liberty, which she co-founded in 2021, aims to inject more conservative viewpoints into schools, restrict transgender rights, battle pandemic mask mandates and remove books the group objects to from school classrooms and libraries.

In addition, DeSantis appointed Bridget Ziegler to the new Central Florida Tourism Oversight District that oversees Walt Disney World’s operations. That panel — which replaced one controlled by Disney — was created by the Legislature at DeSantis’ request after Disney objected to the “Don’t Say Gay” law. The board currently is the subject of state and federal lawsuits over control of the huge theme park outside Orlando.

Democrats and other critics say the Zieglers are hypocritical because the alleged sexual activities are completely at odds with the conservative views they push on others, particularly LGBTQ people.

“The Zieglers have made a habit out of attacking anything they perceive as going against ‘family values,’ be it reproductive rights or the existence of LGBTQ+ Floridians,” state Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried said in a statement. “The level of hypocrisy in this situation is stunning.”

The state GOP has called a meeting for Sunday in Orlando to discuss Christian Ziegler’s future as party chair.

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Florida school board recommends ouster of Moms for Liberty co-founder over Republican sex scandal