DeSantis vs. Disney: Who won Florida's feud?

Ron DeSantis.
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Disney just learned the hard way why companies shouldn't force their "woke" politics on lawmakers, said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. "Disney employees demanded that Mickey Mouse oppose Florida's misdescribed 'don't say gay' bill," and CEO Bob Chapek dutifully vowed to fight to repeal the law, which prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) responded by getting lawmakers last week to dismantle the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which has let Disney World "run its own private government" since 1967.

"Even demographic groups that Democrats believed to be unshakably liberal are joining the backlash" against the force-feeding of "woke doctrines about race and gender" to students in our schools, said editor-in-chief Jonathan Tobin at Newsweek. By siding with the "woke" mob against parents, Disney threw its hard-earned reputation as a family-friendly company out the window.

Criticizing corporate America

DeSantis is the one turning on former allies, says Giulia Heyward at The New York Times. Once upon a time, Republicans were the party that supported big business. But since former President Donald Trump's rise, the GOP has "increasingly seen political benefit in criticizing corporate America" over hot-button issues in the culture wars. But at what cost? The Reedy Creek Improvement District has allowed Disney to regulate its own construction projects, fix its own potholes, and pay for its own fire department, saving it millions in taxes and fees every year. Disney has "leveraged the benefits" to build a massive resort that has 80,000 workers, making it central Florida's biggest employer. DeSantis' political attack could drive it to "reduce its future investment in the resort's expansion," or even take up other states on offers to relocate some of its attractions.

DeSantis also is trampling the Constitution, said Ian Millhiser at Vox. The "don't say gay" law is too vague for teachers to follow, and critics say it further stigmatizes LGBT young people already marginalized by society. Disney's opposition to the law is a textbook example of First Amendment-protected free speech, and DeSantis' attempt to punish the company for it is unconstitutional.

Potential to backfire

None of this matters to DeSantis, says Jim Newell at Slate. He's hauling in more donations from this feud than he's losing. He's heading for re-election in November, and lining up support for a possible presidential bid in 2024. Other Sunshine State Republicans might not be so lucky, though. Disney's "omnipotence" in Florida is legendary. "It brings billions of dollars to the state," employs legions of central Florida residents (who vote), and "donates millions to Florida politicians, with the bulk of it going to the Republicans who control Florida and Republican-leaning groups." It's a leading force in business groups. "The Mouse is everywhere." As a historian of Disney's legacy in Florida put it: "You don't get ahead politically by going against Disney."

Taxpayers are the ones who will really pay, says Joel Mathis at The Week. "Revoking Disney's tax district essentially puts area residents on the hook for more than $1 billion in bonds the company used to pay for things like water service and new roads on its land. Local homeowners could see their taxes jump by 20 percent as a result. Oops."

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