Sarasota, Home of the GOP Chair

Under The Hood

Photo: Christian Ziegler

As state Sen. Joe Gruters stepped away from the Republican Party of Florida chairmanship, a four-year period wrapped with a Sarasota politician in charge of a major party. But with the election of Sarasota GOP Committeeman Christian Ziegler as the new chair, another such era begins.

It’s wild to see control of a major party stay in a mid-sized community far from the state Capitol. But here we are. Honestly, it makes a political observer in the Sarasota area wonder how much Republican infrastructure will continue to amass here.

How did this happen? For starters, the Republican Party of Sarasota performed well politically and financially for years. Over more than a decade, Sarasota became a must-stop location for any candidate aiming for a national profile.

“Sarasota has been a self-sufficient local party,” Ziegler told me. “I don’t see that changing.”

Donald Trump. Ted Cruz. Mike Pompeo. All accepted the honor of Sarasota Statesman of the Year. No offense to local trophy makers, but it’s the chance to network with wealthy, politically active donors that brought those big names.

But when Gruters became party chair, I didn’t quite anticipate the number of cogs of Republican machinery that would suddenly relocate. The chairmanship at least appeared like a magnetic force over this significant time.

Maybe it’s just coincidence in some cases. Ziegler credits the tax environment, beaches and sunshine for luring businesses like Rumble and Trump’s Truth Social to Sarasota.

Former Gen. Michael Flynn and Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk moved to the area for similar reasons and family ties.  Then again, Democratic figures Jerry Springer and James Carville also have Sarasota places. It’s a nice place to live.

But Ziegler freely acknowledges a direct relationship to the local GOP’s growing profile for other growth. He notes work by his wife, School Board Member Bridget Ziegler, who regularly hosts Leadership Institute events for conservative candidates crafting a K-12 platform. This week, a training session had 80 attendees, some who flew in and others who teleconferenced.

Christian Ziegler suspects the recent makeover for New College will attract more conservative voices to the region; he’s one of the biggest cheerleaders for change at the school amid plenty of skepticism well documented in this column.

“I would say Sarasota has become the conservative center for education over the last couple years,” he said.

Many took notice when Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a list of incumbent school board members he wants targeted in 2024 and it included Sarasota School Board Member Tom Edwards.

That’s no coincidence. Christian Ziegler as the newly installed chair met with DeSantis this week to help craft the list, along with members of Moms For Liberty, a group Bridget Ziegler helped found. The state GOP chair made no bones about his disdain for Edwards, who unseated Republican incumbent Eric Robinson in 2020. Ziegler called Edwards perhaps the most “woke” School Board member in America, using a label Edwards himself once embraced.

Ziegler plans to be an aggressive state chair, and always courted controversy.

For the record, there’s a million right answers to the question ‘Where were you on Jan. 6?’ Ziegler has the wrong one. He was in Washington attending Trump’s rally ahead of the electoral vote certification. But he does say he was appalled by violence at the Capitol and condemned it immediately that day.

“I once worked in the House. If it would have been 10 years before, I literally would have been on the other side of those doors,” Ziegler notes. 

His focus politically, he said, will be on winning majorities in elections. He boasts relationships with people near Trump and DeSantis, both likely presidential candidates this cycle. That could mean figures from both major campaigns passing through Sarasota frequently.

And he wants to see continues growth of the Sarasota GOP. He noted at this point, there are almost as many independents in Sarasota County as Democrats while Republicans keep growing numbers. He wants that dominance to continue.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor for SRQ MEDIA.

Photo: Christian Ziegler

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