Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ fight with Disney continues after the company filed a lawsuit claiming DeSantis “orchestrated at every step” a campaign to punish Disney in ways that now threaten the company’s business.
Disney called DeSantis’ attempt to take over its theme park a “relentless campaign to weaponize government power” against the company, adding in the lawsuit that the governor’s decision to overtake the Board of Supervisors to oversee Walt Disney World’s operations the “latest strike.”
The company said DeSantis’ development contracts “laid the foundation for billions of Disney’s investment dollars and thousands of jobs.” The lawsuit added, “The government action was patently retaliatory, patently anti-business, and patently unconstitutional.”
Disney and its attorneys did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.
DeSantis waged war against the Mickey Mouse conglomerate a year ago after the company voiced its support for the LGBTQ+ community following passage of HB 1557, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Since then, DeSantis removed Disney’s special status as its own municipal government in February, which protected it from paying millions of dollars in taxes and allowed it to build out its theme parks without needing permission from the Florida government.
“Today the corporate kingdom finally comes to an end,” the governor said at a bill signing ceremony in Lake Buena Vista. “There’s a new sheriff in town, and accountability will be the order of the day.”
DeSantis’ campaign sent an email to the company on March 10, 2022, accusing it of being “woke” and “echoing Democrat propaganda,” the lawsuit says. Shortly after receiving the email, Disney issued a statement saying, “... We oppose any legislation that infringes on basic human rights and stand in solidarity and support our LGBTQIA+ Cast, Crew, and Imagineers and fans who make their voices heard today and every day.”
DeSantis has made it abundantly clear that he wants to remove any governing autonomy Disney has retained and went so far as to replace the board of directors last month in an effort to control the theme park. The move was the last straw for Disney who said in the lawsuit that the board’s takeover resulted in the loss of jobs, adding the governor has shown he does not care and does not plan to stop.
Florida Communications Director Taryn Fenske spoke about the lawsuit in an email to Gizmodo, and said, “We are unaware of any legal right that a company has to operate its own government or maintain special privileges not held by other businesses in the state. This lawsuit is yet another unfortunate example of their hope to undermine the will of the Florida voters and operate outside the bounds of the law.”
Yet Disney was protected by a state law passed in 1967 that allowed the company to retain its own government control on land in and around its Florida theme parks. At the time, the area was an uninhabited pasture and swamp, and Disney took on the responsibility of providing power, water, roads, and fire protection to the Reedy Creek Improvement District where it held control.
Since then, Disney has remained a significant tourist destination, but under the continued fight against DeSantis for power over its district, the company says in the lawsuit that it “has never wanted a fight with the Florida government” and “regrets it has come to this.”