DeSantis v Disney feud escalates as Republicans advance takeover plan
The Republican-dominated legislature in Florida has moved quickly to amplify Governor Ron DeSantis’s feud with Disney over LGBTQ+ rights, advancing a proposal to overcome the company’s thwarting of his earlier plan to seize control of the theme park giant.
DeSantis, a likely candidate for the Republicans’ 2024 presidential nomination, was outfoxed by Disney after installing a hand-picked board of directors with oversight of the state’s biggest private employer. At its first meeting, the board discovered a last-minute deal between Disney and outgoing directors had rendered it in effect impotent.
Now, in a move Democrats say is unconstitutional, lawmakers on Wednesday introduced a measure handing the DeSantis loyalists retroactive power to nullify the agreement by amending a land use law relating to special taxing districts.
And in its own separate meeting the same day, the new board laid out its plans for Disney, including a huge increase in taxes and building low-income housing on land adjacent to its popular theme parks.
Earlier this week, DeSantis had touted building a new state prison there, among other proposals.
The escalation comes amid growing evidence that DeSantis’s focus on punishing Disney for speaking out against his “don’t say gay” law banning classroom discussion on LGBTQ+ issues is harming his political standing.
Although he has yet to declare his candidacy, he trails former president Donald Trump by a significant margin in Republican polls for the White House nomination; is struggling to attract endorsements of Florida’s congressional delegation; and has lost the backing of influential donors.
He is also under fire from Republicans who have derided his “unconservative” attacks on a private business as an act of revenge.
“That’s not the guy I want sitting across from President Xi [Jinping] and negotiating our next agreement with China,” the Republican former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, a possible rival for the nomination, told Semafor.
“Or sitting across from [Vladimir] Putin and trying to resolve what’s happening in Ukraine. If you can’t see around a corner that [Disney chief executive] Bob Iger creates for you, I mean, I don’t think that’s very imposing.”
The latest Disney measure is expected to become law. Republicans in the Florida legislature, who secured a supermajority at the same time DeSantis was re-elected by a 19% margin last November, have so far been compliant with every item on the governor’s cultural wishlist.
As well as lawmakers advancing the land use amendment on Wednesday, the Florida house passed a bill banning children from drag shows, and DeSantis’s board of education approved an expansion of the “don’t say gay” law outlawing classroom conversations on sexual orientation and gender identity to all grades.
Also this session, the legislature passed a six-week abortion ban and permitless carry for firearms, and it is mulling DeSantis’s extremist immigration agenda that would make it a felony for anyone to knowingly transport an undocumented person.
Democrats say the Disney proposal, which would give DeSantis’s allies on the central Florida tourism oversight district the authority to overturn any agreements made in the three months before it took power, contravenes the Florida constitution.
“I’m all about corporate accountability, but this isn’t it,” state congresswoman Anna Eskamani said, according to the Miami Herald. “And it continues to be a distraction for us to focus on real-life issues by continuing the Disney versus DeSantis drama.”
But in a tweet lauding the move, Jeremy Redfern, DeSantis’s deputy press secretary, said Disney’s deal with the outgoing board was an “illegal and unconstitutional effort” to evade oversight.