Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has demanded an investigation into Disney after the company pulled a fast one on him in the midst of a seemingly unending feud fueled by a battle over LGBTQ+ rights.
DeSantis’s demand comes after Disney made a stealthy move to prevent him from stripping the company of its long-held power over its own tax district.
In a letter to Florida’s Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel, DeSantis reportedly accused Disney of attempting “to usurp the authority of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board” and requested “a thorough review and investigation.”
“These collusive and self-dealing arrangements aim to nullify the recently passed legislation, undercut Florida’s legislative process, and defy the will of Floridians,” he wrote.
Disney and DeSantis have been feuding since the entertainment company spoke out against the governor’s anti-LGBTQ+ Don’t Say Gay law, 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.
After that, DeSantis not only continuously criticized the company in public, but he also oversaw the Florida legislature’s revocation of Disney’s decades-old special zoning agreement to punish them.
Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District was established in 1968 and 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 it significantly reduced Disney’s autonomy.
DeSantis signed the bill abolishing the district in February and declared that “the corporate kingdom finally comes to an end.”
The bill also allowed him to create a five-member board (appointed by him) to oversee government services in Disney’s district.
But members of DeSantis’s new board began their tenure by discovering that the previous board snuck in a last-minute development agreement with Disney that allows the company to maintain much of its autonomy and renders the new board pretty much powerless.
Under the agreement, Disney can reportedly build whatever it wants on the property as well as grant others developmental rights. It also bans the board from using Disney’s name or characters. It then invokes a royal clause stating that the agreement is valid until “21 years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III, king of England,” meaning it could last for decades until all of King Charles’ grandchildren have passed away.
DeSantis was ruthlessly mocked for being outplayed, and Disney has insisted the move was above board.
“All agreements signed between Disney and the District were appropriate, and were discussed and approved in open, noticed public forums in compliance with Florida’s Government in the Sunshine law,” the company said in a statement.
DeSantis isn’t the only one seeking vengeance for Disney’s move.
Florida House Speaker Paul Renner (R) tweeted on Monday that “all legislative options are now back on the table” and accused Disney of seeking to evade “public accountability similar to every other business.”
Having played by its own rules for decades, @disney has doubled down to keep it that way, in an attempt to evade a newly created board that would bring public accountability similar to every other business. As a result, all legislative options are now back on the table.— Paul Renner (@Paul_Renner) April 3, 2023
At a recent shareholders meeting, Disney CEO Bob Iger called DeSantis “anti-business.”
“Our point on this is that any action that thwarts those efforts simply to retaliate for a position the company took sounds not just anti-business, but it sounds anti-Florida,” he said, according to CNN.
“The company has a right to freedom of speech just like individuals do. The governor got very angry about the position that Disney took, and it seems like he’s decided to retaliate against us… in effect to seek to punish a company for its exercise of a constitutional right. And that just seems really wrong to me – against any company or individual, but particularly against a company that means so much to the state that you live in.”
A statement from DeSantis’s office in response to Iger stated, “While a company has First Amendment rights, it does not have the right to run its own government and operate outside the bounds of Florida law. The Florida Legislature and Gov. DeSantis worked to put Disney on an even playing field, and Disney got caught attempting to undermine Florida’s duly-enacted legislation in the 11th hour.”
One thing is clear: this war is not ending anytime soon.
A spokesperson for DeSantis, Jeremy Redfern, made that known in a recent statement: “Disney is again fighting to keep its special corporate benefits and dodge Florida law. We are not going to let that happen. As Governor DeSantis recently said, ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet.'”