A big part of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ appeal to the Republican electorate in a presidential nominating contest is that he’s willing to go farther than most when it comes to using the machinery of government to fight culture war battles. One such battle was DeSantis’ move, earlier this year, to give the state control over the Reedy Creek Improvement District. That’s the special district that contains Walt Disney World and has long given Disney extraordinary powers to govern the area where it is located.
In what was largely seen as retaliation for Disney opposing Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, DeSantis signed a bill giving the state control of that district.
“Today, the corporate kingdom finally comes to an end,” DeSantis said at a press conference in late February. “There’s a new sheriff in town and accountability will be the order of the day.”
At the same time, DeSantis appointed a board consisting of multiple large donors, as well as Bridget Ziegler, head of the conservative group Moms of Liberty.
While the takeover mostly was about the financial power that the previous board had, DeSantis also, at the press conference, hinted that the board might even try to exercise veto power over what attractions will be featured at the parks.
The board “might push for a say in Disney’s content if the corporation wants its tax-friendly home base to remain as is,” the governor said. This confrontation with Hollywood is the sort of thing that has a chance to play well in a presidential primary.
However, a new report says the takeover may have been rendered irrelevant. Per CNN, before the changeover in February, the previous board reached a “multi-decade” agreement with Disney in which “Disney would maintain control over much of its vast footprint in Central Florida for 30 years and, in some cases, the board can’t take significant action without first getting approval from the company.”
In what drew a great deal of attention, the agreement between Disney and the old board barred the new board from using any of Disney’s “fanciful characters,” while also making that provision valid until “21 years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III, king of England.”
The new board has threatened legal action, CNN said, and has retained “multiple financial and legal firms” to weigh its options.
“The lack of consideration, the delegation of legislative authority to a private corporation, restriction of the Board’s ability to make legislative decisions, and giving away public rights without compensation for a private purpose, among other issues, warrant the new Board’s actions and direction to evaluate these overreaching documents and determine how best the new Board can protect the public’s interest in compliance with Florida Law,” a statement from the five firms to CNN said.
“This essentially makes Disney the government,” DeSantis-appointed board member Ron Peri said in a meeting this week. “This board loses, for practical purposes, the majority of its ability to do anything beyond maintaining the roads and maintaining basic infrastructure.”
Peri, CNN discovered earlier this month, had once suggested the Alex Jones-style conspiracy theory that tap water was causing people to become gay.
In reaction, multiple people on Twitter quoted a famous line from the movie “The Princess Bride,” to extoll Disney’s famed legal prowess.
“Haha, you fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders, the most famous of which is ‘Never get involved in a land war in Asia,’ but only slightly less well known is this: ‘Never go in against the Disney Corporation legal department when any amount of money is on the line,’ Michael Caley tweeted.
Expertise and Experience: Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.