Disney and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis have been at war since March, when Mouse House chief Bob Chapek—whose company, of course, owns a city-sized theme park complex in Florida and is the state’s largest employer—reacted to the state’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill (now law), by speaking out against it and pausing all donations from Disney to Florida politicians.
Now, as Variety reports, the Mouse House may be reconsidering its bold stance.
Following Chapek’s rebuke—which many Disney employees thought was too little, too late—a livid DeSantis struck a powerful body blow against Disney, passing revenge legislation to eliminate the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a special tax district in Orlando that allows Disney World govern itself. The 38-square-mile relentless fun zone includes “a 54-megawatt power plant, 65 miles of canals, various roads and pedestrian bridges, and a fire department that handles 35,000 calls a year, largely for heat-related illness,” according to Variety.
“If you’re going to commit yourself to wanting gender ideology in elementary school, we’re not going to hold you up on a pedestal any longer,” the governor said in a recent speech. “Disney is no longer going to have its own government. They’re going to live under the same laws as everybody else. And they are going to pay their fair share of taxes in the state of Florida.”
But it’s been a few months, and the landscape has changed. DeSantis successfully turned the battle into a culture war, a dark talent that may help him now that he is positioning himself for a possible 2024 presidential run. And Disney desperately needs to keep its special, special tax district. Maybe… the two could help each other.
The plan would involve face-saving teamwork by adding state appointees to sit right next to Disney representatives on the district’s governing board, according to Variety, in a body that would be a successor agency.
Information about this plan has turned up in public records obtained and in interviews offered by Ben Watkins, the director of the state’s bond finance division.
As described by Watkins, the main difference would be the existence of the state-appointed board seats. Disney—which has had control over the special tax district for the 55 years— would have to share power with the state. It’s an uncomfortable but possibly the solution that will save them.
There are risks. It’s possible that the county could refuse to recognize the agency, leading to court. There are uglier, unhappier solutions—a First Amendment lawsuit, for example. But no one wants that, although Variety notes that DeSantis has both the thirst and ability for “genuine knife fights.”
In fact, Disney, known for ruthless business and labor practices, might have met its match—and the solution is duck, not fight.
“This guy is more dangerous than Donald Trump because he’s smarter and he has a better sense of how to use power as more than just a blunt instrument,” said Gene Stearns, an attorney who represents the county in the litigation. “Everything this guy does is the same. The power goes to him. It doesn’t matter the law. It doesn’t matter the constitution. In my view, he’s a thug.”
State Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Democrat, put it another way: “If you’re new at school, find the biggest kid on the playground and punch him. It obviously has a chilling effect on other companies.”
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