Disney battles DeSantis in newest salvo
The scales of justice weighing both Florida's and Disney's interests. (Art created by Caspian Rizzo.)

Disney battles DeSantis in newest salvo

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Walt Disney Company are no strangers to conflict, but the Florida powerhouses’ feud has escalated as of late. Disney has sued DeSantis, alleging the presidential aspirant has unfairly targeted the corporation for political reasons that will  greatly damage both the Florida economy and the Walt Disney Company itself.

Untangling this web of civil lawsuits is extremely difficult, especially considering that the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD)—formerly known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District—are now actively counter-suing Disney themselves. Furthermore, a committee of DeSantis appointees that are functionally in charge of Disney World—have also joined the legal battle against Florida’s largest employer.

This all began when DeSantis’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill was first put forward in January 2022. Disney went on to speak out against the bill after shareholders’ outrage about its lack of response. This, in turn, invoked the ire of DeSantis, kickstarting an elaborate process of lawsuits and legislation.

Now, as DeSantis expounds on his aspirations for the district—which vary from increasing taxes, to building a new amusement park, to building a state prison next door—Disney has escalated its legal action.

DeSantis’s new book, The Courage to be Free, references the Disney struggle in a triumphant tone. Disney cites four passages in its lawsuit, indicating what it argues is a targeted campaign to punish the company in violation of the corporation’s right to freedom of speech. The passages are as follows:

  • “I needed to be sure that the Legislature would be willing to tackle the potentially thorny issue involving the state’s most powerful company. I asked the House Speaker, Chris Sprowls, if he would be willing to do it, and Chris was interested. ‘OK, here’s the deal,’ I told him. ‘We need to work on this in a very tight circle, and there can be no leaks. We need the element of surprise—nobody can see this coming.'”
  • “Nobody saw it coming, and Disney did not have enough time to put its army of high-powered lobbyists to work to try to derail the bill. That the Legislature agreed to take it up would have been unthinkable just a few months before. Disney had clearly crossed a line in its support of indoctrinating very young schoolchildren in woke gender identity politics.”
  • “He admitted that he ‘found’ that there was this ‘handful of other districts’ that ‘also deserved scrutiny’ only after his ‘staff worked with the legislative staff in the House’ to target Disney.”
  • “’In promising to work to repeal the bill,’ he asserted, ‘the company was pledging a frontal assault on a duly enacted law of the State of Florida.’ As a consequence of its disfavored speech and petitioning, he declared, ‘[t]hings got worse for Disney.’”

Several news outlets and political analysts have argued that these quotes indicate that DeSantis targeted the Walt Disney Company specifically for its rhetoric on his legislation. The second quotation, where he references Disney’s “indoctrinating very young schoolchildren in woke gender politics,” as well as the final quote, where he says “things got worse for Disney,” could both be interpreted to indicate that this was, in fact, a targeted attack against the most powerful company in the state. Disney itself has said that “there is no room for disagreement” that this legislation began as a retaliatory strike against its protected speech.

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