On Disney, DeSantis Did the Right Thing for the Wrong Reasons

On Disney, DeSantis Did the Right Thing for the Wrong Reasons
AP Photo/John Raoux

Florida’s government is set to give Disney a fierce smackdown after its legislature passed a bill that would shut down the company’s private government in Orlando. The bill has now been sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office for his signature, which is expected to take place any day now.

The Hill reported:

The move could have huge tax implications for Disney, whose series of theme parks have transformed Orlando into one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, and serves to further sour the relationship between the Republican-led government and a major political player in the state.

The move comes after a months-long feud between Gov. DeSantis and Disney over the controversial Parental Rights in Education bill, which was passed earlier this month. The law prohibits teachers from instructing children seven years old and younger on matters pertaining to sexuality and gender identity. The legislation, which is deceptively called the “Don’t Say Gay Bill” by the hard left, ignited a fierce national debate over the type of material that should be presented in America’s classrooms. At least 12 other states are considering similar legislation.

Disney, under pressure from the LGBTQ community, became a vocal opponent of the law. After it was passed, the company vowed to fight for its repeal and has repeatedly criticized DeSantis for being its champion. In March, it announced it would suspend political donations and would instead use the funds to support organizations opposing the law.

The Hill explained what the new bill would do:

The bill passed by the legislature on Thursday would eliminate the Reedy Creek Improvement District, as the Disney government is known, as well as a handful of other similar districts by June 2023. The measure does allow for the districts to be reestablished, leaving an avenue to renegotiate its future. It now moves to DeSantis’s office to be signed into law.

Democrats slammed Florida’s government, accusing them of passing the law as retaliation against the company. They argued homeowners could be subject to higher tax bills if they have to absorb Disney’s bond debt.

Many on the right praised DeSantis and Florida’s legislature. Some noted that the company should never have had its own government in the first place. Others celebrated the fact that Disney was getting its comeuppance for its opposition to the education law.

It is this second point I’d like to address.

Disney’s decision to insert itself into the debate over the Parental Rights in Education Bill was clearly a horrible move. The company’s leadership thought it best to kowtow to the ultra woke crowd and launch a rhetorical war against DeSantis and those who support the law. Instead of listening to the loud, screechy minority, they should have stayed out of it. Now, it appears the company could lose profit by alienating a large number of parents – many of whom vote Democrat – because they took the anti-parental rights side.

Nevertheless, conservatives who actually value the principle of limited government should be at least a little concerned about Florida’s actions. The notion that politicians – regardless of political affiliation – should be empowered to use the state to punish a corporation for expressing views is not exactly in line with the notion of limited government. Making a corporation’s status contingent on whether it agrees with the legislation a government has passed is the exact opposite of what many of us claim to believe.

To put it simply, the state should not be able to use its power to retaliate against any entity simply for expressing a political viewpoint it does not like. It is the same behavior for which we criticize the hard left. Remember how we reacted when progressives were trying to use Colorado’s government to shut down Masterpiece Bakery because it did not agree to use its services to support something that went against the owner’s religious beliefs? The First Amendment is meant to protect everyone – not just those with whom we disagree.

However, it is also worth noting that Disney should never have had that favored status in the first place – at least not for as long as it did. A corporation should not have the power to govern a geographic region with the blessing of the state. This move on the part of Florida’s government was long overdue. In fact, there are likely other businesses whose status should be reconsidered as well.

The reality is that Gov. DeSantis and Florida Republicans are doing the right thing for the wrong reason.

It is abundantly clear that had Disney stayed out of the education debate, or even came out in favor of it, the company would not have to be concerned about losing its special status. It is the only reason Republicans are targeting the company, and that is the issue here.

If Florida Republicans had already been advocating for ending Disney’s special status, that would not be an issue. But the fact they were willing to let them keep it until the company came out against the education law is not great and could lead to other consequences down the road, especially when the Democrats do the same thing, using DeSantis’ actions as an excuse. We do not need both sides of the aisle being willing to wield the power of the state when it is politically expedient. We need at least one side that is willing to make it so that the government can’t use its power to silence opposition.

While my petty side loves seeing Disney get slapped in the face, my principled side knows this could lead to a dangerous place. Since I prefer principles over politics, I can’t support the reason why Florida has made this decision. Hopefully, this instance is a one-off and does not become a pattern.

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