() — Outside Walt Disney World, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill Monday that gives him new power over Disney, effectively punishing the entertainment giant for speaking out against the Republican’s political agenda.
The new law amounts to a state takeover of the district special of Reedy Creek, the government body that has given Disney unique powers in central Florida for more than half a century. In that sense, it allows the governor to replace the current district board – mostly people linked to Disney – with a five-member body chosen by himself.
“Today, the corporate kingdom finally comes to an end,” DeSantis said Monday at a Reedy Creek fire station in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. “There’s a new sheriff in town and accountability will be the order of the day.”
DeSantis announced his appointments to the reconstructed board, including Martin Garcia, a Tampa attorney and prolific Republican donor whose private investment firm contributed $50,000 to DeSantis’ reelection, and Bridget Ziegler, a member of the County School Board. Sarasota, co-founder of the conservative organization Moms for Liberty and wife of Christian Ziegler, the new chairman of the Florida Republican Party.
The new board is scheduled to meet next week, DeSantis said, “so fasten your seatbelts.”
In a statement to after the bill passed the state legislature earlier this month, Jeff Vahle, the president of Walt Disney World Resort, said the company was “ready to work within this new framework, and we will continue to innovate, inspire and bring joy to the millions of guests who come to Florida to visit Walt Disney World each year.”
The move against Disney comes nearly a year after the company ruled against a Florida bill, which DeSantis later signed into law, to restrict certain classroom teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity. In March of last year, as outrage against the legislation swept across the country, Disney issued a statement pledging to help get the law struck down or struck down by courts and saying the company was “dedicated to upholding the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ members of the Disney family, as well as the LGBTQ+ community in Florida and across the country.”
DeSantis responded by asking lawmakers to strip Disney of its special governance power, which they did last year, ending a longstanding deal that allowed the company to build its sprawling, iconic Orlando-area theme parks on an international tourist destination and one of the most important economic engines of the state.
However, lawmakers changed their minds amid concerns that a debt standstill and the Reedy Creek contracts violated state law creating the special tax district. Instead, DeSantis appointees will be in charge of the district’s powers to tax, build and borrow money for projects and services around Disney’s vast footprint in Orange and Osceola counties. It will also rename Reedy Creek as the Central Florida Tourism Supervisory District, restrict its use of eminent domain and remove unused powers that could have allowed Disney to build its own airport or a nuclear plant.
Reedy Creek’s new future was approved by the GOP-led state legislature earlier this month in a special session.
“Disney went against something that was really just about protecting young children, and making sure that students are able to go to school learning to read, write, add, subtract, and not have a teacher who say they can change their gender,” DeSantis said Monday. “And I think most parents are okay with that. But that was just a slight annoyance. I think what we realized after we let things settle was that there was clearly a movement within our own corporation”.
The saga with Disney has been central to the narrative surrounding DeSantis’ rise to the top of potential Republican presidential hopefuls in 2024, and a demonstration of how far the Republican has gone to push his “war on woke culture.” “. By taking on Disney, DeSantis stunned one of the largest and most influential employers in the state. With an army of lobbyists and millions in past campaign donations to Republican lawmakers, he often wielded great influence in the corridors of Florida’s legislative branch.
Although the move was hailed by the conservative media, several of DeSantis’ potential Republican rivals have been critical. Former Vice President Mike Pence said the conflict with Disney was “beyond what I, as a conservative, limited-government Republican, would be willing to do.” And New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu said penalizing businesses for their political speech set “the worst precedent in the world.”
DeSantis has shrugged off such criticism. The signing of the bill on Monday became a lengthy attack on Disney that extended beyond his foray into Florida legislative activity. DeSantis featured speakers attacking the company’s vaccine and mask policies, its treatment of firefighters and its latest entertainment offerings.