California Governor Newsom Loves Disney Again. We’ve Come Full Circle.
Here’s a phrase you wouldn’t expect to apply to Disney: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
Oddly, that’s the only quote that comes to mind in the wake of the latest Disney political story.
Yes, the Governor of California loves Disney again, which would have appeared impossible just three years ago.
Let’s talk about a wildly unlikely series of events that brings recent Disney history full circle.
The California Feud Starts
In 2016, a group of candidates in Anaheim, California, ran for City Council.
Their platform gained attention due to its anti-Disney stance. The would-be politicians believed that Disney didn’t pay its fair share of taxes.
Enough of these candidates won council seats that Disney faced an adversarial board.
Disney’s frustration came to a head in 2018, when the Anaheim City Council refused to play ball.
Disneyland Resort officials planned a luxury hotel at Downtown Disney, but there was a problem.
Management wanted to build in a different place than it had initially plotted.
In a perfect world, Disney would have asked the council members to sign paperwork to move the project.
You may wonder why the Anaheim City Council would grant such a request. And that answer is simple.
Disney only wanted to build two blocks down the road from plans the council members had previously approved.
There was just one problem.
Those council members weren’t the same ones in 2018 as the previous elected officials who originally agreed to this build.
The former council members had offered Disney $267 million in tax incentives for this project.
Local and state governments cut deals like this all the time to increase jobs and tourism revenue from taxation.
However, the new council consisting of anti-Disney politicians refused.
Stymied, Disney ultimately canceled the entire project. Management also said it would never again ask for such tax incentives in Anaheim.
Not coincidentally, Disney also spent nearly $1 million to influence the results of the 2018 Anaheim City Council election.
Sure enough, the most recent council members have proven friendly to Disney.
A side benefit of the improved relationship is the opening of The Villas at Disneyland Hotel in September.
That expansion tower exists because the Anaheim City Council killed the Downtown Disney hotel.
The California Feud Escalates
I liken local politics to PTA meetings. When parents disagree in a public setting, the conversation deteriorates rapidly.
The people holding lower positions in the United States government lack the polish of more proven elected officials.
Their egos are fragile, while their local power is outsized. Corporations understand and even expect this.
Surprises occur when more influential politicians like state governors behave unpredictably. And this conversation isn’t going the way you think it is.
Before the Florida Feud somehow escalated into an international news story, Disney officials fought California’s state government.
Specifically, Disney argued that it could reopen Disneyland Resort safely during the pandemic, just as it had proven at Walt Disney World.
While Florida acted as the wild west during the pandemic, California’s leadership followed the recommendations of healthcare officials.
For this reason, Disneyland Resort remained closed for nearly a year after Walt Disney World reopened.
Bob Iger bristled at this government-mandated closure. By this point, he had “retired” as CEO and taken on the role of Executive Chairman of the Board.
California Governor Gavin Newsom respected Iger and asked him to participate in an economic recovery task force.
Once Newsom refused to reevaluate the viability of safety-first theme park reopenings, Iger quit the task force in a huff.
Frankly, in early 2021, nobody could have envisioned Disney enjoying a stronger relationship with Newsom than Florida’s governor.
That’s the thing about time and distance…and the way politics makes strange bedfellows.
Newsom Takes Pride in Disney
Earlier this year, Disneyland Resort proudly announced a new after-hours ticketed event, one with a vital message behind it.
Disney confirmed the first-ever Disney After Dark Pride Nite. It’s just like the other after-hours events like Grad Nites, but it also serves a purpose.
The troubles in Florida began due to HB1557, the so-called Don’t Say Gay legislation.
Disney protested this bill and everything it represented, which led to a historic split between a state government and its most recognizable business.
Early in 2023, Florida officials desperately tried to bully Disney into submission, a tactic that blew up in their faces.
Disney legally empowered itself in ways these elected officials didn’t even realize were possible.
Soon afterward, Disney announced the Pride Nite event, which sent a message that it would continue standing up for its cast members and fans.
Meanwhile, Newsom and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis have feuded for the body of three years now, something the media has only recently noticed.
Recognizing an opportunity, Newsom decided that he would attend Pride Nite and meet with Disney officials as well.
Seriously, this turn of events would have been laughed away as an impossibility in early 2021, but here we are.
Newsom happily posed for photographs, including one where he stood by a partygoer wearing a rainbow-colored Don’t Say DeSantis shirt.
The point shouldn’t be lost on anyone. Newsom recognizes that his views align with Disney’s much more than DeSantis’s ever have.
Newsom has previously toyed with the idea of running for President in 2024 but is more likely to wait for 2028.
Still, the governor can score easy points with his fanbase by performing stunts like this…and Disney also gets something from the deal.
Newsom Sings a New Disney Song
We’ve previously discussed Disneyland Forward on several occasions.
While Disney paints its message as a way to expand the parks, Disneyland Forward is really more of a means of politically pressuring elected officials.
Disney wants these politicians to update zoning ordinances from the 1990s to benefit the parks.
This grassroots campaign can’t match the significance of the state governor favoring the idea, though.
That’s what happened this week after Disney pitched Newsom on the goals of Disneyland Forward.
The governor’s office went so far as to publish a recounting of the Pride Nite event as well as Newsom’s meeting with Disney.
Newsom also released this statement:
“In California, we don’t just tolerate our diversity – we celebrate it and all the ways it makes us stronger…
“Our inclusivity and acceptance attract new talent and ideas that drive our economic growth and make California a hotspot for world-leading companies to grow and prosper.
“We’ll continue to advance California values to build an inclusive economy that embraces opportunity for all.”
That statement sounds like Disney has won over Newsom on the idea of Disneyland Forward, which will have ripple effects on Anaheim politicians.
In short, Newsom’s appearance at Disneyland and its Pride event helped Disneyland Forward more than anything else the company had attempted recently.
The recently frosty relationship between Newsom and Disney appears repaired and stronger than ever.
For Disneyland fans, that’s the best possible news, as it increases the odds of park attraction sooner rather than later.
PS: Don’t be surprised if/when something similar happens in Florida once a new governor is sworn in.
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