‘It’s not going to go well for you’: Why Disney and US Governor Ron DeSantis are at war

“It was a mistake for Disney to get involved. It’s been more than a year since Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared war on Mickey. The group filed a complaint on Wednesday against him, accusing him of “political revenge”. It’s the latest installment in a saga that began with the firm’s opposition to a bill restricting the teaching of subjects related to orientation in state schools.

At the heart of these dissensions, we find a “special district”, located in Florida, not far from Orlando. Condition of the American giant for the construction of its second amut park (Walt Disney World, which will open in 1971), this one confers from 1967 to Disney unique advantages for a private company. In this 100 km2 area, which covers its park and well beyond, the American firm is in charge of land use planning, its public services and can even ignore certain laws.

The existence of this special district has never been questioned until now and Disney is king in its kingdom. In 2022, Florida pes the “Parental Rights in Education Act”, which is quickly dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” Act. This one simply bans speech about orientation in elementary schools across the state. This bill is controversial across the country. Even US President Joe Biden calls this measure “hateful” towards LGBT+ students.

Disney forced to take a stand

First employer (75,000 employees) and first state funder ($ 1.1 billion in 2022 alone), Disney is overpowered there and could technically have a say. This is in any case what the opponents of the text think, blaming the firm for its silence. “Shapek (then CEO of the Walt Disney Company) is more worried about the reaction of the right than of its loyal supporters and employees, ”denounces Abigail Disney, granddaughter of Roy Disney, co-founder of the group. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation even funds a TV spot begging the company to take a stand. “As we have seen time and time again, corporate statements do very little to change results or minds,” says Bob Chapek, however, justifying his company’s neutrality on the subject.

Under pressure, and while hundreds of employees denounce in demonstrations his “apathy”, Disney is finally forced to react. In a short press release, the firm said in mid-March that it “will not tolerate any form of discrimination”. “We oppose any legislation that violates fundamental human rights,” continues the Walt Disney Company, which we learned a few days earlier that it had funded ociations opposing the law. It also announces to stop financing the campaigns of elected officials who had voted for the text (as is clic in the United States).

A rare position that Ron DeSantis did not appreciate. “I think they crossed the line,” he lamented at a press conference. “If Disney wants to kiss woke ideology, it seems appropriate that they be regulated by Orange County,” quickly noted a Republican elected official, thus questioning the special district. “I think it was a mistake for Disney to get involved and I told them: You shouldn’t get involved, it’s not going to go well for you “, said a few days later the governor of Florida.

The special district called into question

The sanction finally falls in February. Ron DeSantis votes to abolish the company’s special status in February. It is initially planned to dissolve the RCID, but the elected officials favor in the end a change of the statutes. The district, which Disney had managed until then, came under the supervision of the State of Florida, managed by five members appointed directly by the governor. These members, believe Disney in his complainthave “embraced the mission (by Ron DeSantis) to punish Disney for expressing unfavorable views”. Disney boss Bob Iger, who recently replaced Bob Chapek, then denounced an “anti-trade measure” infringing “the right to freedom of expression”.

DeSantis doesn’t stop there. The Governor of Florida announced in early April the launch of an investigation against the firm, instructing the authorities to investigate “any financial gain or advantage derived by Walt Disney World as a result of RCID’s actions”. The governor of Florida accuses Disney of having emptied almost all of its powers from the RCID, which has since returned to state control. “This essentially makes Disney the government,” summarizes one of the new members of this commission. “This council loses, for practical purposes, most of its ability to do anything beyond maintaining roads and upkeep of basic infrastructure,” he continues.

It now remains for justice to settle the dispute. A more political war: Ron DeSantis could be a candidate for the Republican primary, with the US presidential election of 2024 in sight. By opposing Disney, the governor of Florida is taking advantage of a unique opportunity to take the spotlight. Enough to encourage him to be firm, like being the head of state of the first world power.

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