This week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis sat down to interview with far-right cable network Newsmax to discuss political issues on the right like current candidates for President, his recent globetrotting, and of course his ongoing battle with The Walt Disney Company. And in that interview, he made some remarks over what he sees as his greatest victory during his tiff with the media conglomerate.
In the nearly 13-minute interview, Gov. DeSantis sits down with Newsmax host John Bachman and kicks things off talking about Disney. DeSantis says the key issue with the company was “they exercised a lot of political influence in this town. And they tried to fight us on things like parents’ rights and things that are really important to the people of Florida. We beat ’em on that, we signed the parents’ rights bill, and we’ve expanded protections, and we’ve done a lot of stuff to go back and fight ‘woke’ ideology.”
DeSantis is of course speaking about the highly-controversial Parental Rights in Education bill, commonly referred to by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay bill,” which kicked off this seemingly neverending tit-for-tat between the company and the Florida government just over a year ago. He additionally is referring to recent legislation expanding the scope of that original bill, which passed last month.
The Governor continues “since our skirmish last year, Disney has not been involved in any of those issues – they have not made a peep. That, ultimately, is the most important – that Disney is not allowed to pervert the system to the detriment of Floridians. So that’s a win for the people of Florida.”
Disney has indeed remained largely silent since their open sparring with the government last year. Former CEO Bob Chapek 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.
During this year’s annual shareholder meeting, current CEO Bob Iger admitted they fumbled the response, stating that DeSantis is punishing the company for exercising its First Amendment rights, which is restated in its lawsuit against DeSantis and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, which took over management of the special district encompassing Walt Disney World earlier this year.
DeSantis went on in the interview to talk about his ongoing fight and position against Disney’s development agreements and restrictive covenants, which his hand-picked Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board is currently counter-suing Disney over.
Bachman additionally asks if DeSantis has spoken to CEO Bob Iger, to which he frankly responds “I haven’t” before pivoting back to justifying his current stage of war with Disney. Iger said last month before the lawsuits were filed that he would be glad to speak with Gov. DeSantis regarding the issue.
He continues “I mean look — the way I viewed it was we had the skirmish last year, we said ‘no self-government,’ we implemented that consistent with what I said in the campaign… and that’s where it was headed until Disney pulled this maneuver. So forget about all the issues we had with all that, you can’t have a situation where the Legislature has spoken and one company just decides to contract out against the will of the people.”
“At the end of the day,” he concludes, “they just have to understand — the party is over for them.”
Disney Suing DeSantis & CFTOD Board
In their lawsuit, Disney Parks & Resorts cites “a targeted campaign of government retaliation — orchestrated at every step by Governor DeSantis as punishment for Disney’s protected speech.” The plaintiff further argues that this chronology of events “threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights.”
Among other grievances, the Governor’s threat of new tolls and taxes, and the Board’s decision to void the company’s final agreement with the Reedy Creek Improvement District Board were included in the document.
The Walt Disney Company is suing for “declaratory and injunctive relief.” Injunctive relief forces a party to act in a certain way or prevents them from doing various things. An “injunction” is sometimes known as a restraining order.
Disney regrets that it has come to this, 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.
The company is demanding multiple items of relief be met, including:
- A. Declare that the Legislative Declaration is unlawful and unenforceable because it abrogates Disney’s rights in violation of the Contracts Clause;
- B. Declare that the Legislative Declaration is an unlawful taking of Disney’s property rights without payment of just compensation in violation of the Takings Clause;
- C. Declare that the Legislative Declaration is unlawful and unenforceable because it was an arbitrary and irrational voiding of the Development Agreement and Restrictive Covenants in violation of the Due Process Clause;
- D. Declare that the Legislative Declaration is unlawful and unenforceable because it was enacted in retaliation for Disney’s speech in violation of the First Amendment;
- E. Declare that the Contracts remain in effect and enforceable;
- F. Declare that Senate Bill 4C and House Bill 9B are unlawful and unenforceable because they were enacted in retaliation for Disney’s political speech in violation of the First Amendment;
- G. Issue an order enjoining Defendants from enforcing the Legislative Declaration;
- H. Issue an order enjoining Defendants from enforcing Senate Bill 4C and House Bill 9B;
- I. Award Plaintiff its attorney’s fees and costs;
- J. Grant such other relief as this Court may deem just and proper.
The federal judge originally attached to the lawsuit recused himself.
CFTOD Board Suing Disney
The CFTOD Board of Supervisors voted to file their own countersuit against Disney. While Disney’s lawsuit is through federal court, the Board’s lawsuit is through state court.
In their 188-page complaint, the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District named itself as the plaintiff and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts US Inc. as the defendant. Through nearly 200 pages of legalese, the district asks the state court to render Disney’s development agreement with the Reedy Creek Improvement District as unenforceable, null, and void. They also ask the same to be done of the restrictive covenants, which notably set the benchmark for expiry at 21 years after the death of the last living descendant of King Charles III, living as of the date of the document.
The CFTOB additionally asks that all agreements cannot be enforced on Disney’s end either. Meanwhile, the Florida Legislature, which is controlled by Republicans and typically acts to rubber stamp Gov. DeSantis’ agenda, is working to pass a law that invalidates Disney’s agreement with Reedy Creek. Governor DeSantis said it was well within his power to do so.
Origins of the Feud
The Florida Governor and 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.
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 the resort through methods both in the Legislature and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight Board. Notably, he promised to hike hotel taxes and institute tolls on the roads around Walt Disney World Resort property.