By Patricia Tolson
On April 26, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts filed a lawsuit against Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his hand-picked oversight board.
According to the complaint (pdf), filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northwestern District of Florida, the theme park giant is accusing DeSantis of engaging in “a targeted campaign of government retaliation” as “punishment for Disney’s protected speech.”
“At the Governor’s bidding, the State’s oversight board has purported to ‘void’ publicly noticed and duly agreed development contracts, which had laid the foundation for billions of Disney’s investment dollars and thousands of jobs,” the complain reads. It also claims that the move was “patently retaliatory, patently anti-business, and patently unconstitutional.”
The complaint states that DeSantis doesn’t plan to stop there, noting that his team “also planned ‘to look at things like taxes on the hotels,’ ‘tolls on the roads,’ ‘developing some of the property that the district owns’ with more amusement parks,’ and even putting a ‘state prison’ next to Disney World.’”
The complaint quotes DeSantis as saying, “Who knows, I just think the possibilities are endless.”
The battle between DeSantis and Disney began nearly two years ago when the family theme park mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for its employees in July 2021. On Nov. 18, 2021, DeSantis countered by signing legislation effectively banning vaccine mandates in the Sunshine State.
In March 2022, under pressure from LGBT activists, Disney opposed the governor’s Parental Rights in Education legislation, dubbed by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. CEO Bob Chapek sent a message to all employees “especially [the company’s] LGBTQ+ community,” apologizing for not acting sooner, adding that Disney would pause all political contributions in the state. Disney doubled down by stating that the bill should be struck down by the courts.
In April 2022, DeSantis retaliated with a threat to repeal the 1967 Reedy Creek Improvement Act (RCIA), which established a special jurisdiction and taxing district for Disney World.
The escalation continued until Disney finally filed its lawsuit.
The complaint states: “Disney regrets that it has come to this. But having exhausted efforts to seek resolution, the Company is left with no choice but to file this lawsuit to protect its cast members, guests and local development partners from a relentless campaign to weaponize government power against Disney in retaliation for expressing a political viewpoint unpopular with certain State officials.”
The office of DeSantis Communications Director Taryn Fenske told The Epoch Times in a statement: “We are unaware of any legal right that a company has to operate its own government or maintain special privileges not held by other businesses in the state. This lawsuit is yet another unfortunate example of their hope to undermine the will of the Florida voters and operate outside the bounds of the law.”
Disney didn’t respond by press time to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.
In a March 28, 2022, statement, Disney vowed that its new goal was “for the RCIA to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts,” promising to support organizations working to make such a thing happen.
In a March 29, 2022, rebuttal on social media, DeSantis wrote that Florida “is governed by the interests of the people of the state of Florida—it is not based on the demands of California corporate executives.”
On March 30, 2022, Republican state Rep. Spencer Roach warned on social media that lawmakers had already met twice to discuss the repeal of the RCIA, writing, “If Disney wants to embrace woke ideology, it seems fitting that they should be regulated by Orange County.”
On April 3, 2022, Roach wrote on social media, “CEO Bob Chapek needs to be removed.”
In a Nov. 20, 2022, press release, the Walt Disney Company Board of Directors announced Chapek was gone.