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Will Florida Republicans use Disney’s new CEO to roll back their attacks on the large employer?

Bob Iger with Minnie Mouse
Bob Iger with Minnie Mouse Photo: Shutterstock

While Florida’s Don’t Say Gay law erased diversity and rainbows from the state’s classrooms, it also wiped out a Disney CEO.

Last week Disney’s board axed the company’s top executive Bob Chapek, in large part because of his bungled response to the anti-LGBTQ legislation signed into law last spring by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).

That has provided an opening for Florida lawmakers to repair the damage done by DeSantis in the wake of his feud with Florida’s largest employer.

At first, Chapek stayed silent on the bill, which bans discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in lower grades and restricts them in higher grades, using language that LGBTQ+ activists say effectively ban mentioning LGBTQ+ people in the classroom.

Then he was slow to respond when Disney employees revolted. By the time he came out against the law, Chapek had already walked into DeSantis’ anti-woke trap.

The biggest fallout for Disney was a DeSantis-backed bill stripping the company of its special tax district, established in 1968, which granted Disney World the power to tax itself to pay for water, power, roads, and fire services on the 25,000-acre property near Orlando.

Abolishing the Reedy Creek Improvement District was a retaliatory strike by DeSantis on Disney’s autonomy, but the hastily written bill would also be a massive tax burden for the local governments that would take its place. It’s scheduled to take effect next summer.

Chapek’s replacement, and one-time boss, is former CEO Bob Iger. Iger came out forcefully against the Don’t Say Gay bill while in retirement last February, predicting it would “put vulnerable, young LGBTQ people in jeopardy.” Despite that, the new Disney top dog is well-respected in Florida after 15 years as head of Walt Disney Co.

State Rep. Randy Fine (R), who drafted the bill abolishing Reedy Creek, said “something will get sorted out” with Iger in charge. “It’s easier to shift policy when you don’t have to defend the old policy,” Fine told the Financial Times.

“Chapek screwed up, but Bob Iger doesn’t have to own that screw-up.”

Now state lawmakers are working a plan that allows both sides to save face, while Iger and DeSantis perform for their own, vested constituencies.

“I was sorry to see us dragged into that battle, and I have no idea what exactly its ramifications are in terms of the business itself,” Iger said at a Disney employee town hall this week. “What I can say is the state of Florida has been important to us for a long time, and we have been very important to the state of Florida.”

DeSantis responded with an appearance on Tucker Carlson Tonight that very same evening.

“We didn’t drag them in, they went in on their own,” DeSantis said. “And not only opposed the bill, they threatened to get it repealed. These are parents’ rights, important policies in our state that are very popular. And so they brought this on themselves. All we did was stand up for what is right. Yes, they are a big, powerful company, but you know what? We stand up for our folks, and I don’t care what a Burbank, California-based company says about our laws.”

Among the potential compromises under discussion are barring Disney from building a nuclear power plant on the property, a right granted to the company by Florida in 1967, and allowing DeSantis to appoint two members to the Reedy Creek board. “These compromises can be done with the least amount of impact,” one lawmaker said. “We can’t let the governor look like he lost.”

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