How Ron DeSantis’s own memoir could ruin his revenge on Disney for humiliating him

Lynchburg, Virginia USA - April 14, 2023 - Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaking at Liberty University on April 14, 2023.
Ron DeSantis Photo: Shutterstock

Florida Gov.Ron DeSantis (R) may have inadvertently caused his own downfall in his unending battle with Disney. His new memoir, The Courage To Be Free, contains passages that admit that his decision to strip Disney of its autonomy was a retaliatory move.

Disney has filed a lawsuit against DeSantis that alleges “a targeted campaign of government retaliation” in response to the company criticizing his infamous “Don’t Say Gay” law.

For decades, Florida allowed Disney to control its own fire, police, and waste management forces as well as the energy generation, road maintenance, bond issuance, and development planning within its special district. Disney’s district — located in both Orange and Osceola Counties — was an exchange for the massive tourism dollars that Disney’s resorts brought into the state.

After Disney spoke out against the law, DeSantis continuously and publicly criticized the company, calling it an “unaccountable Corporate Kingdom” that had “extraordinary special privileges.” He then signed a bill abolishing Disney’s self-governance over its 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. In response, DeSantis threatened to build a prison next to Disney and called for state oversight of Disney World’s rides. He also threatened to tax Disney’s hotels and impose tolls on roads that lead into the entertainment company’s theme parks.

The 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, “now threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights.”

Quoted in the suit are DeSantis’s own words from the memoir, where he explains his decision to punish Disney for exercising its right to free speech: “In promising to work to repeal the bill, the company was pledging a frontal assault on a duly enacted law of the State of Florida.”

The suit then states, “As a consequence of its disfavored speech and petitioning, [DeSantis] declared, ‘[t]hings got worse for Disney.”’

In another section, Disney states that the governor’s memoir “describes the attack on Disney with pride: ‘Nobody saw it coming, and Disney did not have enough time to put its army of high-powered lobbyists to work to derail the bill… Disney had clearly crossed a line in its support of indoctrinating very young schoolchildren in woke gender identity politics.”

A third quote shows DeSantis saying Disney’s opposition to the Don’t Say Gay bill was a “declaration of war” and “a textbook example of when a corporation should stay out of politics.”

Disney also mentions an op-ed by DeSantis published in the Wall Street Journal to promote the book in which he wrote: “Leaders must stand up and fight back when big corporations make the mistake, as Disney did, of using their economic might to advance a political agenda. We are making Florida the state where the economy flourishes because we are the state where woke goes to die.”

Many have posited that DeSantis thought his brags about punishing Disney would position him well for a presidential run. But it seems they may come back to haunt him.

Scott Wilkins, senior counsel for the Knight First Amendment Institute, told The Washington Post that these kinds of lawsuits usually require lawyers to “make inferences” about a government official’s motive. But in this case, Wilkins said, “You have pretty clear statements from Governor DeSantis that he is seeking to punish a corporation for its speech. That’s prohibited by the First Amendment.”

DeSantis has still not announced a presidential run, though it is almost certain he is planning to do so soon. But his feud with Disney has caused him to lose significant favor with his party. A recent Politico exposé revealed that both Democrats and Republicans in the Florida state legislature had had enough of the governor’s revenge-fueled agenda.

Prominent Republican donors have also expressed concern that DeSantis is not as viable a candidate as he once was. To many, he has become nothing more than the butt of a joke.

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