I’ve been around for over 71 years and I don’t ever remember a sitting governor declaring war on an in-state business, especially one as popular and important as Disney World.
In fact, most governors fawn over large businesses, those that employ large numbers of state citizens and lure tourists, in droves, to the state.
They provide tax incentives and other benefits that we common citizens might not imagine.
In Disney’s case, in exchange for purchasing and developing a huge 43 square-mile swath of land near Orlando, one of those perks was, for lack of a better term, the right to self-government.
Besides DeSantis, who doesn’t love Disney?
When I was a young man, my wife and I often took our children to Disney World for a week or a weekend.
Of course, the kids had to experience every part of the park, eat like pigs, and buy Disney-branded products by the boatload.
Our family was not unique; in 2021, the Magic Kingdom was visited by over 12 million people, making it the most visited amusement park in the world.
Sales and hotel taxes alone must bring millions into the Florida economy.
The partnership between the state of Florida and Disney has been extremely lucrative for both, a match made in heaven.
But 2021 is also where the trouble started.
At the height of the COVID-19 crisis, the Walt Disney Co. decided to require its employees to be vaccinated against the deadly disease.
This did not sit well with DeSantis, who had signed an executive order demanding that mask mandates for Florida schools be banned.
He also threatened to withhold funding for any school district that was unwilling to comply with his dangerous order. Why?
Who knows with this narcissistic autocrat?
He claimed to be providing ‘freedom of choice.’
COVID cases jumped 50% following the executive order.
In March 2022, DeSantis proudly signed the so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ legislation, which stated:
“Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
Pressured by its employees, Disney opposed the legislation, issued a statement calling for the courts to strike it down, and offered to support state and national efforts to defeat the legislation, saying, “Florida HB 1557 (“Don’t Say Gay’) . . . should never have been signed into law.”
DeSantis is in the unique situation of have a stacked legislature and judiciary, a dangerous development for someone with his personality defects.
Like the child that he is, he lashed out at Disney and ordered his lackeys in the Florida legislature to rescind the favorable self-governing status Disney enjoyed.
Little did DeSantis know that Florida taxpayers would have to pay off about $1 billion in the district’s debt.
Furthermore, bond rating agencies warned that repealing the district would harm local Florida governments.
Undeterred, determined to punish Disney, DeSantis engineered a work-around—he left the taxing district in place, but shifted control of the district from Disney to the Governor.
He remains determined to revoke the original develop agreements that have been in place since the 1960s.
While he soundbites that Disney should live under the “same laws as everybody else,” he ignores Disney’s unique ability to drive billions into the state revenue.
Unfortunately, because Florida has a unique weather advantage over every state in the union, Disney has little choice but to stay and fight.
The Florida Supreme Court leans heavily Republican.
I applaud Disney for its brave fight for equal justice, but Florida citizens seem enamored with a governor who will not fight for the safety or freedom of its citizens.
Florida has become a state where gun rights trump safety and free speech and civil rights are punished.
Fortunately, DeSantis is term limited—perhaps Florida citizens will come to their senses and repudiate autocracy.
We’ll be watching.
Mark M. Bello is an attorney and author of the Zachary Blake Legal Thriller Series and children’s social justice/safety picture books.
He also hosts the popular bi-weekly podcast Justice Counts.
Mark’s books may be found at all online booksellers and on his website at https://www.markmbello.com.