DeSantis’ Office Responds to Walt Disney World Lawsuit

Shannen Ace

DeSantis’ Office Responds to Walt Disney World Lawsuit

Florida Governor DeSantis’ Communications Director Taryn Fenske has released a statement responding to Disney suing the governor and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District Board of Supervisors.

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“We are unaware of any legal right that a company has to operate its own government or maintain special privileges not held by other businesses in the state,” Fenske states. “The lawsuit is yet another unfortunate example of their hope to undermine the will of the Florida voters and operate outside the bounds of the law.”

The Reedy Creek Improvement District was established legally by a 1967 act signed by Republican Governor Claude R. Kirk Jr. The act allowed Disney to get the money and resources they needed to build Walt Disney World. Through the act, landowners within the district, including Walt Disney World, were solely responsible for paying the cost of providing municipal services, instead of local citizens. The district encompasses the cities of Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista, with fewer than 100 residents in total. Residents of the two communities elect their city officials.

There are 1,800 special districts like Reedy Creek in Florida.

Disney Suing DeSantis

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Disney Parks & Resorts names DeSantis, Meredith Ivey (Acting Secretary of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity), Martin Garcia (Board Chair), and Board members Michael Sasso, Brian Aungst, Jr., Ron Peri, Bridget Ziegler, and Administrator John Classe in their lawsuit.

In the lawsuit, Disney cites “A targeted campaign of government retaliation—orchestrated at every step by Governor DeSantis as punishment for Disney’s protected speech—now threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights.” They reference the Board of Supervisors officially voided Disney’s final agreement with the Reedy Creek Improvement District Board during this morning’s meeting and DeSantis’ threats of instituting new tolls and taxes in the district.

“Disney regrets that it has come to this,” the lawsuit states. “But having exhausted efforts to seek a resolution, the Company is left with no choice but to file this lawsuit to protect its cast members, guests, and local development partners from a relentless campaign to weaponize government power against Disney in retaliation for expressing a political viewpoint unpopular with certain State officials.”

Further on in the lawsuit, it reads, “It is a clear violation of Disney’s federal constitutional rights—under the Contracts Clause, the Takings Clause, the Due Process Clause, and the First Amendment—for the State to inflict a concerted campaign of retaliation because the Company expressed an opinion with which the government disagreed. And it is a clear violation of these rights for the CFTOD board to declare its own legally binding contracts void and unenforceable. Disney thus seeks relief from this Court in order to carry out its long-held business plans.”

Disney & DeSantis So Far

Collage of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Disney CEO Bob Iger

Governor DeSantis and The Walt Disney Company initially clashed over the corporation’s opposition to a much-debated and controversial Florida law regarding classroom instruction and discussion on sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools, alongside various other recent state laws and proposals in a similar vein.

Bob Chapek was Chief Executive Officer of Disney at the time and initially remained silent and passive on the issue — until massive internal criticisms from cast members and controversy over Disney’s practice of making hefty political contributions to campaigns and individuals allegedly against their own stated human principles came into focus.

In an apparent act of retribution over Chapek’s expression of dissent, the Governor moved forward with various verbal and legal assaults on Disney, including the attempted dissolution of Reedy Creek and the eventual transfer of power directly under his control. DeSantis argues he is attacking a rather vague perception of something he calls “woke politics,” invading the state. He further says he aims to put the people of Florida first through his actions: “Disney has gotten away with special deals from the state of Florida for way too long. It took a look under the hood to see what Disney has become to truly understand their inappropriate influence.”

The Governor insists he will double down on efforts to punish Disney through methods both in the Legislature and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight Board. Notably, he promised to hike Disney’s hotel taxes and institute tolls on the roads around Walt Disney World Resort property.

The Florida legislature also recently filed a bill that would require state inspections of Walt Disney World Monorails.

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