How Disney Outflanked DeSantis and What Happens Next
For the past 14 months, fans of The Walt Disney Company have paid attention to what was formerly a curiosity.
A conflict between Disney and Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, has cast a rare spotlight on an arcane self-governing body.
Recent flare-ups between the two parties have triggered national headlines as sites like CNN dutifully recount what has happened.
How did Disney outflank DeSantis and thereby incur the wrath of Florida’s governor?
Here’s a timeline of events, some new reporting, and a guess at what happens next.
The Stuff You Probably Already Know
On March 28th, 2022, DeSantis signed the so-called Don’t Say Gay legislation, House Bill 1557.
Long before the governor signed the document, its mere possibility had infuriated many people, most notably Disney cast members.
Some of them protested and demanded that Disney take a stance against the legislation.
We’ve since learned that then-CEO Bob Chapek spoke with DeSantis and also former Marvel CEO Isaac Perlmutter on the matter.
The billionaire entrepreneur strongly recommended that Chapek keep Disney on the sidelines.
Since Perlmutter owns more Disney stock than anyone, his words carry some weight.
For his part, DeSantis informed Chapek that Disney would regret any attempts to speak out against the bill.
As you know, Chapek eventually denounced the bill in the strongest possible terms.
At this point, DeSantis claims in his autobiography that he told a Florida conservative lawmaker, “Nobody can see (a Disney attack) coming.”
DeSantis intended to score political points at Disney’s expense. In the governor’s evaluation, the conservative voter base didn’t like Disney.
Disney’s internal polling suggested something similar, at least among retired Americans.
So, Florida’s governor capitalized on Disney’s perceived weakness and blindsided them. He took steps to take control of the Reedy Creek Improvement District.
Alas, those moves backfired. Disney owed more than $1 billion in bonds. Under the proposed legislation, Florida residents would have immediately acquired that debt.
Undeterred, DeSantis adjusted tactics. He plotted to overthrow Reedy Creek from within its own board.
Florida lawmakers crafted new legislation with the express purpose of changing the name of Reedy Creek to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD).
More importantly, DeSantis empowered himself to select the board members for this district.
The governor believed he had won and openly boasted that there was a “new sheriff in town.” Yeah, about that…
What We Just Learned about Reedy Creek
Thanks to some exceptional reporting by CNN’s Steve Contorno, we can fill in some blanks regarding what was happening behind the scenes.
While DeSantis claimed victory, Disney apparently knew all along that it could legislate its own fate with the Reedy Creek land.
According to CNN, “the company appears still in control of the huge swaths of land around its Orlando-area theme parks.”
Meanwhile, the “DeSantis allies overseeing the district are gearing up for a protracted legal fight while the governor has ordered an investigation.”
Why is there a need for an investigation? Disney anticipated DeSantis’ play and introduced the so-called King Charles III clause at Reedy Creek.
King Charles III may sound like some obscure ruler from English history books, but it’s actually the former Prince Charles who claimed the throne in 2022.
Charles’ son William and his wife, the former Catherine Middleton, have three children, the youngest of whom turns five in April 2023.
So, the last heir of King Charles III won’t die for a long, long time…possibly not for centuries. Disney’s employment of that clause causes fits for CFTOD officials.
Ostensibly, Disney controls the former Reedy Creek land for 30 years, but it could later argue many more years of power.
We’re unlikely to reach that point, as DeSantis is evaluating all means of nullifying the agreement.
The governor spent a full chapter of his autobiography discussing his Disney feud, which is odd for a man who got married at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa.
DeSantis faces political embarrassment in the wake of these events.
He claims he knew about the March 18th clause but didn’t comment on March 29th.
That’s the date when the CFTOD indicated that it would engage in a protracted legal battle with Disney.
Were they afraid to tell their boss?
The Showdown Brewing
DeSantis wants to run for President of the United States (POTUS) during the 2024 election cycle.
His numbers were already slipping in the polls, and reports like this one aren’t helping any:
multiple sources noted to me that the New Hampshire G.O.P. is still struggling to sell tickets, at every level up from entry-level tickets to $5,000 dinner sponsorships, for the annual Amos Tuck Dinner on April 14, featuring DeSantis as the special guest. https://t.co/z8m5BpSXw1
— Tara Palmeri (@tarapalmeri) April 7, 2023
DeSantis had every intention of running as the anti-Disney candidate, which is a quirky platform in and of itself.
Now, the governor faces a “twist (that) threatens to undermine a central pillar of his story.”
Even worse, CNN reports the following: “In Florida’s capital of Tallahassee, some veteran Republican operatives, exhausted by DeSantis’ high-profile cultural fights, are tickled that Disney appears to have one-upped the governor…”
That’s at least one of DeSantis’ alleged political allies laughing at him behind his back.
Also, CNN interviewed an Orlando trial lawyer named John Morgan for this story.
The attorney stated the following:
“Disney gave him a lot of rope. They obviously tried to resolve it, but there was no stopping him because DeSantis wanted the fight.
Disney always knew it had that trump card.”
A Disney historian piles on by adding this chestnut: “Disney was playing chess, and DeSantis was playing checkers.” Oof.
Imagine how Ron DeSantis felt while reading these quotes in a major news publication. Does he sound like the victor here?
We all know the answer, just as we know how dangerous it is to embarrass someone as powerful as a governor.
What Happens Next?
The one point where we can all agree is that Ron DeSantis needs a win here.
He’s running for POTUS, and one of his platforms is what he proudly describes as an anti-Woke agenda.
The governor held every intention of embarrassing the most Woke, i.e., tolerant, company of all, Disney.
Instead, DeSantis’ moves have backfired in any number of remarkable ways.
In fact, as you can tell, several parties tried to warn him against this course of action, yet he took it anyway.
Last week, DeSantis used multiple campaign stops to speechify about what he intends to do to Disney.
Meanwhile, Bob Iger indicated that he wants to spend $17 billion over the next decade building more great amenities at Walt Disney World.
Along the way, Disney would add 13,000 new jobs.
DeSantis responded by indicating he will increase taxes on Disney hotels and surround Walt Disney World with toll booths.
In other words, Iger promised to improve Florida’s revenue and employment situation. Its governor countered by promising legislative aggression
DeSantis will remain on the campaign trail for the body of the next year. Throughout that time, he needs to claim that he brought Disney to heel.
For that to happen, DeSantis must strike back at Disney through any means possible.
Florida’s about to get frostier than Arendelle.
Feature Image: Fox35Orlando.com
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