How Did Disney vs. Florida Reach This Crisis Point?
The dumbest feud in the (Walt Disney) World has taken another turn.
Florida legislators have done what they promised by nullifying Disney’s Reedy Creek agreement, the one that gave the Mouse full control of its land.
We know how much Disney means to Florida. Why are legislators trying to kill the golden goose?
How did we reach this point wherein Florida’s majority legislature hates Disney, its most lucrative revenue generator?
Blame Bob Chapek and Ron DeSantis
I’ve spent the body of 15 months trying to keep politics out of this discussion, but it’s kind of like talking about football without mentioning a quarterback.
Everything we’ve witnessed since early 2022 has included some degree of political motivation.
In January 2022, Florida’s legislature, whose current composition includes a Republican supermajority, proposed HB 1557.
This legislation became the basis for the so-called Don’t Say Gay bill argument that has divided Florida and Disney.
At the time, many Disney cast members protested the legislation.
Throughout the years, Disney has famously supported its cast members independent of race, religion, or sexual preferences.
In 2019, Disney proudly proclaimed its perfect grade for the 2019 Corporate Equality Index, which evaluates such practices.
However, Bob Iger remained Disney’s CEO in 2019. In 2022, his replacement, Bob Chapek, oversaw Disney, and he got some bad advice.
Geoff Morrell, who briefly led Disney’s PR team, suggested that Chapek work behind the scenes with Florida legislators to kill the bill.
Morrell foolishly believed that the power of Disney lobbying would end this legislation or cause it to be retracted after the fact.
Morrell based his beliefs on an outdated political playbook. Since Chapek had specifically hired the PR expert for instances like this, Disney’s CEO trusted the advice.
What Chapek and Morrell failed to recognize was how ambitious Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was/is. This person wants to be President of the United States.
To reach such lofty political heights, someone needs a platform and heightened media coverage.
The First Escalation
Eventually, Chapek recognized he was getting bad advice. When Disney cast members staged sizable walkouts in protest, the CEO got with the program.
For the first time, Disney’s new CEO offered full-throated support for his upset cast members.
Chapek called on DeSantis and the Florida legislature to recant their Don’t Say Gay legislation.
In that moment, the die was cast.
Independent of what anyone thinks about Ron DeSantis, he possesses an obvious character trait. He plays offense, not defense.
People with that attribute don’t back down or compromise. They escalate.
Every internet fight you’ve ever watched with curiosity stems from this sort of behavior. Some people relish a good fight.
In this instance, DeSantis evaluated his position and recognized he had a strong hand here.
The legislative supermajority ensured that the governor could pass any bill he wanted.
So, he hatched a plan to punish Disney punitively for its vocal opposition to the Don’t Say Gay legislation, which was earning DeSantis support among right-wing voters.
Remarkably, that’s not a statement of opinion. The governor published a book wherein he detailed his position and explained his thought process.
DeSantis, by his own account, launched a surprise attack on Disney. He had allies in the legislature propose a bill to dissolve the Reedy Creek Improvement District.
Florida’s representatives quickly voted in favor of the proposal without doing their due diligence.
The state’s economists quickly recognized that the dissolution would pass $1 billion in loans to residents in the applicable Reedy Creek counties.
That’s a quick way for politicians to get voted out of office. So, the legislature waited until after the election to try again.
The New Proposal and Disney’s Countermeasure
Last December, I wrote an article about how Disney held all the cards against DeSantis.
Either the governor or his advisors recognized this fact. They reshuffled the deck.
Since the 2022 mid-term election increased the Republican stronghold in Florida, DeSantis requested new legislation.
Since the elimination of Reedy Creek proved impossible, the governor planned to re-theme the board with a panel comprised of his acolytes.
Florida forcibly re-themed Reedy Creek as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.
However, something had changed within Disney in the interim. The company fired the lackluster Chapek and replaced him with a living legend, Bob Iger.
Disney’s current CEO is no stranger to politics himself. Rupert Murdoch once brokered a Fox asset sale to Disney under the terms that Iger remain with the company.
The owner of Fox News didn’t want Iger running for President, as Murdoch believed Iger could win.
Picking a fight with Bob Chapek is one thing. Starting an argument with Bob Iger is like messing with John Wick’s dog. It won’t end well.
Iger recognized DeSantis for what he is – a shameless opportunist who favors political theater over policy.
In meetings with his staff, Iger warned them to prepare for the worst, which they did.
Here’s the part that doesn’t get discussed enough. On February 6th, Florida’s legislature proposed the bill that would end Reedy Creek in its current state.
Disney did this on January 25th:
I will just leave this here. Here are the RCID meeting notes from January 25 when the developer’s agreement was first discussed – and the date of the second hearing (Feb 8.) was also discussed. pic.twitter.com/XyUiKZT0vu
— Scott Gustin (@ScottGustin) April 17, 2023
Iger plotted a countermove for a move DeSantis wouldn’t even make for another 12 days!
That public declaration was one of two required under the Sunshine Law.
Disney honored all legal stipulations in changing the rules at Reedy Creek. The previous board empowered Disney with nearly total control of that land.
The Second Escalation
While everything to this point is incontrovertible fact, what happened next is subjective since events are still unfolding.
DeSantis had recently released a book and was on a publicity tour.
The plan called for him to end the triumphant book tour with an announcement that he would run for President.
Once word leaked that Disney had bested him in the Reedy Creek struggle, DeSantis claimed that he would “win on every single issue involving Disney.”
Soon afterward, the governor held a press conference wherein he came across as nervous and ill-prepared.
During this off-the-cuff speech, DeSantis inexplicably stated that he might build a prison next to Walt Disney World. It was a transparent bluff that sounded unplanned.
The whole thing forcefully reminded me of a Homer Simpson gag:
Humorous aspect aside, the interview signified a change in tone. DeSantis was no longer able to use Disney as a punching bag.
Iger had fought back and delivered a legal, lethal knockout blow.
Unfortunately, political knockouts aren’t permanent. If they were, Richard Nixon would never have become President after his disastrous debate with JFK.
Instead, DeSantis has clearly decided that the gloves are off. Florida’s governor has utilized all his legal abilities to punish Disney.
This combination of events might confirm your belief that we live in the stupidest timeline.
The Current Quagmire
So, here’s where we’re stuck as Disney fans. Our most popular theme park is currently suing the state in which it resides.
I think that’s akin to being sued by the contents of your stomach. But here we are.
The governor of Florida has anchored his theoretical Presidential campaign on his attacks against Disney. He’s even designed illegal hats.
Disney finds itself in a legal scuffle with someone who can’t back down and probably wouldn’t even if he could.
Even if DeSantis agrees to meet with Iger, that conversation would be frostier than Elsa’s hands.
While the overwhelming majority of legal analysts believe Disney will prevail in its lawsuit, we have no idea what happens if it doesn’t…or even if it does.
What’s to stop DeSantis and the government from crafting more nuisance legislation against Disney? Such behavior would lead to additional lawsuits.
Even if Disney wins in court, it will have made an enemy of someone who is currently one of the five likeliest candidates to become the next President.
Additional headaches could come later in such a scenario. Conversely, the odds suggest DeSantis will lose.
In that scenario, the governor will finish his final two years in office while harboring a grudge against Disney.
At some point, we’d all hope that common sense prevails, with Disney and Florida admitting they need one another.
As of now, that somehow feels like the least likely scenario, though.
In short, how we got here has become irrelevant. We’re now trapped, and it’s hard to envision an escape anytime soon.
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Feature Photo: Getty