TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Tuesday asked the Legislature to repeal a law allowing Walt Disney World to run private government on its properties in the state, the latest volley of a feud between the governor and the entertainment giant over what critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
DeSantis, an ascendant GOP governor and potential 2024 presidential candidate, has battled with Disney over the company’s opposition to the new law banning instruction about the sexual orientation and identity of gender from kindergarten to third grade.
On Tuesday, DeSantis upped the ante.
As lawmakers returned to the Capitol for a special legislative session on redistricting Congress, the governor issued a proclamation that allows the GOP-controlled statehouse to accept bills eliminating the autonomous district of Disney. Republicans quickly tabled proposals to this effect.
“I’m announcing today that we’re expanding the appeal of what they’re going to be considering this week. And so, yes, they’ll be looking at the map of Congress, but they’ll also be looking at terminating any special districts that have been enacted into law. in Florida before 1968, and that includes the Reedy Creek Improvement District,” DeSantis said at a press conference, referring to the company’s administrative district without mentioning Disney by name. not precised.
Disney representatives did not return an email request for comment on Tuesday. It was not immediately clear how eliminating the district would affect the company or neighboring governments.
The Reedy Creek Improvement District is a private government controlled by Disney World and created by the state legislature in 1967 to provide government services such as zoning, fire protection, utilities, and infrastructure.
The creation of the district and the control it gave Disney over 27,000 acres (11,000 hectares) in Florida was a crucial element in the company’s construction projects near Orlando in the 1960s. Officials of the company said they needed autonomy to plan a futuristic city with the theme park. The city never materialized, however; instead, it turned into an EPCOT theme park.
The push to punish the company comes after Disney announced it would suspend political donations in the state due to the new Parental Rights in Education Act. Opponents have dubbed the law “Don’t Say Gay”, arguing that banning classes on sexual orientation and gender identity in the early years would marginalize LGBTQ people.
Disney is one of Florida’s largest private employers: Last year, the company said it had more than 60,000 workers in the state. LGBTQ advocates who work for the company criticized CEO Bob Chapek for what they said was his slowness to speak out against the bill. Some left work in protest.
DeSantis has repeatedly lambasted Disney and critics of the law, attracting considerable attention in conservative media circles. He insists the policy is reasonable and says parents, not teachers, should bring up the topics of sexual orientation and gender identity with children.
Republican lawmakers seem receptive to punishing Disney, tabling proposals that would disband the district by June 2023. DeSantis has been a powerful governor, effectively pushing his priorities in the statehouse, and GOP Senate chairman and president of the House are supporting him on the Disney issue.
Democrats were quick to criticize the governor’s decision in retaliation for the company’s stance on the education bill. Some have pointed out that Disney has been a major economic driver in the state.
“What world are we living in right now? asked Democratic Senator Audrey Gibson. “It’s Florida’s state of freedom. If they don’t agree with the Governor, he pulls out the Gatling gun.
Richard Foglesong, a retired Rollins College political scientist whose book, ‘Married to the Mouse’ chronicles the formation of Reedy Creek, said he initially thought ‘cooler heads would prevail’ in the war of words between DeSantis and Disney.
“I think I was wrong. I overestimated — or underestimated — Governor DeSantis,” Foglesong said. “I see it as a legitimate threat.”
Associated Press writers Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee and Mike Schneider in Orlando contributed to this report.