Ron DeSantis threatens Walt Disney World

Possible restrictions imposed on Walt Disney World by Gov. Ron DeSantis

A dispute between Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) and Walt Disney World started when the “Don’t Say Gay” bill was signed into law last year, leading to criticism from officials at Walt Disney World, Florida’s largest private employer and corporate taxpayer. The law says public school teachers may not instruct on sexual orientation or gender identity in grades kindergarten through third grade.
DeSantis appointed a five-person board, the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, on Feb. 27 whose members are all political donors and loyalists. This board will work in the district that oversees Walt Disney World’s operations. On April 19, the board started planning how they are going to exert more government oversight on Disney.
Martin Garcia, the newly-appointed board chairman said “Disney’s lobbying and marketing campaign succeeded for 55 years. It succeeded for more than a century, above all, because nobody in Tallahassee was willing to shine a light on this agreement.”
In February, before the board was put in place, the former board approved an agreement that allowed Disney to have power within the district. The terms of the agreement include that the district is prohibited from using the name “Disney” or symbols associated with the theme park resort without the company’s permission. Also, it cannot use the likeness of Mickey Mouse, other Disney characters or other intellectual property in any manner; the Walt Disney company can sue for damages for any violations.
The agreements are “completely one-sided. Disney took governmental power for itself for decades and offered the district precisely nothing in return,” said David Thompson, a partner with a Washington-based law firm, Cooper & Kirk, which has been hired to work with the oversight board and use its legal power to settle the dispute with Disney. Since DeSantis has been in office, Florida has authorized more than $5 million in legal contracts with Cooper & Kirk.
The new board is planning to undo this agreement. The first change which the board wants to make is zoning changes to allow for development of affordable housing on district land. DeSantis even said there is a possibility of a state prison built near Disney.
The board wants its attorneys to join the legal defense of local tax authorities since Disney has challenged their property assessments in the past. The board wants those lawsuits dropped, which could result in Disney paying more tax dollars to local governments.
An independent rate consultant will be hired to give insight into how the district-owned utility company sets its rates. The board will compile reports for DeSantis and the legislature with recommendations that can help guide future legislative decisions in the district.
Fellow Republicans have taken some shots at DeSantis over the dispute with Disney. Former President Donald Trump said on his social media site Truth Social “DeSanctus is being absolutely destroyed by Disney,” another effort from Trump to discredit DeSantis from a future presidential election run. Trump has picked up five endorsements from Florida congressmen and has already raised $19 million for his campaign. DeSantis has yet to respond to Trump’s attacks.
Former Gov. of New Jersey Chris Christie (R.- N.J.) said, “I don’t think Ron DeSantis is conservative, based on actions towards Disney.” Suggesting that DeSantis is punishing Disney and defying the principles of small governments. “…To me, that’s what I always thought liberals did, and now all of a sudden here we are participating in this with a Republican governor.”
In response to the criticisms of fellow Republicans, a spokesperson for DeSantis said, “Mr. DeSantis believed Disney had ‘an unfair special advantage’ over other businesses in the state.”
The governor’s press secretary, Bryan Griffin said, “Good and limited government (and, indeed, principled conservatism) reduces special privilege, encourages an even playing field for businesses, and upholds the will of the people.”
The new board has only outlined changes they want to make in the district, and no action has been taken. Walt Disney World Company did not have a representative at the board meeting and has not commented on the board’s suggestions.