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Moms for Liberty cofounder refuses to resign from Sarasota school board

TALLAHASSEE, Florida — A cofounder of the conservative parents group Moms for Liberty, Bridget Ziegler, refused to resign from the Sarasota school board Tuesday night despite intense pressure from the board and dozens of community members to step down.

All four board members besides Ziegler — including two who were endorsed by Gov. Ron DeSantis — passed a resolution calling for her to vacate her position amid revelations surrounding her personal life that emerged as her husband, Florida GOP chair Christian Ziegler, is investigated for an alleged rape. Yet Bridget Ziegler remained defiant in the face of the public admonishment from the board, which has no legal authority to remove her.

“I am disappointed. I serve on another public board and this issue did not come up and we were able to forge ahead with business of the board,” Bridget Ziegler said at the meeting, referencing her position on the board that manages Walt Disney Co.’s special land district.

During the course of the rape and sexual battery investigation into her husband, Bridget Ziegler told police that she, her husband and the woman leveling the sexual assault claims had sex together a year ago. According to an arrest warrant affidavit, Christian Ziegler and the victim had known each other for more than 20 years. On the day of the alleged incident, Christian Ziegler and Bridget Ziegler has attempted to arrange a tryst with the victim, who backed out after she learned Bridget Ziegler couldn’t attend.

Although Bridget Ziegler is not alleged to have done anything illegal, her critics have denounced her as a hypocrite since she is a outspoken supporter of traditional family values and a Florida law that bans teachers from leading classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity, known by opponents as “Don’t Say Gay.”

As a co-founder of Moms for Liberty, Ziegler has risen to national prominence and was endorsed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in the 2022 school board election. DeSantis also appointed her to the Florida board that oversees Disney’s park in central Florida.

Outside of the resolution, the Ziegler investigation is already having ramifications. Earlier this month, a Moms for Liberty chapter in Pennsylvania split from the national group, with its chair telling a local news outlet that “It’s hard to advocate for parental rights when the co-founder is caught up in the scandal.”

And Bridget Ziegler last week resigned as vice president of school board programs at the nonprofit Leadership Institute dedicated to aiding conservatives running for office.

The board meeting in Sarasota was tense from the start, with dozens of protestors lined up outside demanding Ziegler’s resignation in the afternoon. One person held a sign reading “Don’t say 3-way.”

The student representative on the board was asked not to attend the meeting and student performances that typically take place were canceled due to the board addressing a resolution of an adult nature.

One board member, Tom Edwards — the lone Democrat of the group — pushed for Bridget Ziegler to resign for causing the “distraction du jour in long list of distractions” drawing unwanted attention to the school district.

“For me, as chair of the school board, it’s not about the left, it’s not about the right — it’s about students,” said board chair Karen Rose, who introduced the resolution condemning Bridget Ziegler.

Bridget Ziegler spoke only briefly at the meeting, attempting to draw attention to how the board over recent years have passed few resolutions, many of which were tied to political motives. She also noted how the resolution is non-binding — powerless to trigger her resignation.

“This does not have any teeth, is that correct?” Ziegler asked the board’s attorney in what were her first public comments since the investigation became public.

Only DeSantis can remove a school board member and it’s unclear if the Republican governor is considering action against Bridget Ziegler. DeSantis, however, has suggested that Christian Ziegler should step down as GOP chair with the rape investigation pending.

Supporters of Bridget Ziegler who attended the meeting called the board’s move against her a “political charade.” One called out the Republican members of the school board for joining the “woke mob” against Ziegler, saying “Et tu, Brute?”

“This meeting is devoted to a motion that has no more authority than if would if I stood out in the street,” said Martin Hyde, a local Republican dubbed the mini-Donald Trump of Sarasota.

Yet others turned up at the meeting seeking a “pound of flesh” from Ziegler over her past support of policies LGBTQ+ advocates say are harmful to students and make them feel ostracized and shamed.

“Participation in same-sex activity is not shameful,” Nick Machuca with Equality Florida, an LQBTQ+ advocacy group, said to a crowd outside ahead of the meeting.

“However, Bridget Ziegler has done this while simultaneously denigrating our community and working overtime to instill policies that directly marginalize us. That hypocrisy is unacceptable.”