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Florida GOP board escalates “Don’t Say Gay” feud by counter-suing Disney World

Gov. Ron DeSantis
Gov. Ron DeSantis Photo: Screenshot

A district board appointed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has voted in favor of counter-suing Disney. Disney filed a lawsuit against DeSantis, his board, and other state government officials last week, alleging that the state government retaliated against the company for publicly opposing the state’s infamous “Don’t Say Gay” law.

“We have no choice now but to respond,” said Martin Garcia, the chairman of the board for the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, according to Insider. Garcia put forward the motion to counter-sue Disney.

“We will seek justice in state court here in central Florida where both it and Disney do business. Yes, we’ll seek justice in our own backyard,” he said.

Garcia said that Disney’s lawsuit against DeSantis and his board seeks “to wrestle back the hands of time to 1967,” the year that Florida officials allowed Disney to control all construction and public services within its own special district, the Reedy Creek Improvement District.

“This board is instead charged legislatively with bringing the district into the 21st century with new and better policies and practices,” Garcia said.

Neither he nor any other government officials have revealed the legal grounds upon which they plan to sue Disney.

The aforementioned publication noted that Garcia’s board has met four times so far and also hired attorneys and financial advisors while considering changes to Disney’s privileges over its district. The board is also reportedly searching for an urban planner and an economic consultant.

One of the board members is an ally of the anti-LGBTQ+ group Moms For Liberty. Another is Ron Peri, an anti-LGBTQ+ pastor who believes women on birth control urinate estrogen into tap water, making anyone who drinks the water likely to turn gay, CNN noted.

Florida granted Disney unique oversight of the Reedy Creek Improvement District — a 25,000-acre resort and theme park complex located within Orange and Osceola Counties — in 1967 in exchange for the massive tourism dollars that Disney’s resorts brought into the state.

However, after Disney opposed state Republicans’ “Don’t Say Gay” law, DeSantis continuously and publicly criticized the company, calling it an “unaccountable Corporate Kingdom” that had “extraordinary special privileges.” He also threatened to build a prison next to Disney and called for state oversight of Disney World’s rides. Florida Republicans also threatened to tax Disney’s hotels and impose tolls on roads that lead into Disney World and shut down its famous 15-mile monorail.

DeSantis signed a bill abolishing Disney’s self-governance over its district in February. The bill also allowed him to create a five-member board (appointed by him) to oversee government services in Disney’s district. However, his board appointees quickly learned that the previous board snuck in a last-minute development agreement with Disney, allowing it to maintain much of its autonomy, rendering the new board rather powerless for decades.

Last Wednesday, DeSantis’ board voted to dissolve Disney’s development agreement. “Within minutes” of the board’s vote, Disney filed a lawsuit against DeSantis, his board, and other state government officials in federal court.

Disney’s lawsuit accuses DeSantis and state officials of a “relentless campaign to weaponize government power against Disney in retaliation for expressing a political viewpoint.” The Republican-led effort, the lawsuit alleges, violates its constitutional rights to free speech and to conduct contracts without state legal interference.

In its lawsuit, Disney said its had “exhausted efforts to seek a resolution” with Florida Republicans, leaving Disney “no choice but to file this lawsuit.” The lawsuit seeks an injunction on the Republicans’ actions against Disney and also legal costs connected to the suit. The case has been assigned to Judge Mark Walker, an appointee of former President Barack Obama (D).

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