Will Disney Have the Last Laugh vs. DeSantis?

AP Photo/Evan Agostini

The feud between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Disney is getting even more interesting. In late February, the governor followed through on his promise to strip the company of its tax haven status.

In 2022, DeSantis said he would be making this move to punish Disney for speaking out against the Parental Rights in Education Act, which prohibits educators from giving instruction to children seven years old or younger on gender identity and sexuality.

RedState’s Brandon Morse explained:

As RedState previously reported, the Reedy Creek district was a 25,000-acre area mostly owned by Disney which gave it the power to run the area however it saw fit, effectively making it its own little kingdom within the state of Florida. This area had existed in the form for decades, but that’s now come to an end thanks to Disney deciding to step into the political ring and challenge DeSantis on his “Parental Rights in Education” bill.

DeSantis later announced the creation of a new board to take control of Disney’s special governing district in Orlando. But just a few weeks before this announcement, the company flipped the script, hammering out a new declaration that mandated that any changes to the district must be made for Disney’s benefit.

Now, DeSantis is preparing for a legal donnybrook with Disney, which sidestepped the legislation by drafting a 30-year development agreement that severely weakens the state’s ability to control the district. The agreement grants Disney “prior review and comment” over any changes the state wishes to make to properties in the district, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Even more bizarre is the provision that says the declaration would be enforceable “in perpetuity” or “until 21 years after the death of the last surviving descendants of King Charles III, King of England.”

True to form, DeSantis is not letting this setback stop him. The Orlando Sentinel also reported that “The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District’s new Board of Supervisors voted to bring in outside legal firepower to examine the agreement, including a conservative Washington, D.C., law firm that has defended several of DeSantis’ culture war priorities.”

“We’re going to have to deal with it and correct it,” said board member Brian Aungst Jr. “It’s a subversion of the will of the voters and the Legislature and the governor. It completely circumvents the authority of this board to govern.”

Disney fired back in a written statement, arguing that the agreements “were appropriate and were discussed and approved in open, noticed public forums in compliance with Florida’s Government in the Sunshine law.”

During a Thursday speech at Hillsdale College in Michigan, the governor claimed the law he signed would abrogate changes the company made, according to Reuters.

“They are not superior to the people of Florida. And so come hell or high water, we’re going to make sure that policy of Florida carries the day,” he said.

“We’re going to look at things like taxes on hotels, we’re going to look at things like tolls on the roads, we’re going to look at things like developing some of the property that the district owns,” he added.

However, there is reason to believe DeSantis is in for a more difficult battle than he is making it out to be. The Washington Examiner reported:

The problem with a legal challenge is that because the agreement appears to have been made in proper order under the previous government of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, it is unknown if the DeSantis administration’s challenge to the agreement will prevail in the courts. The DeSantis-appointed board of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District has said it has hired four outside law firms to void the agreement made under the previous board.

DeSantis remains undeterred.

He has directed the state’s inspector general to look into the former Reedy Creek Improvement District Board to investigate “any legal or ethical violations” on its part before the state took control of the district. The probe will look at the district’s “adherence to applicable Florida civil and criminal laws and ethics requirements,” according to the Washington Examiner. It will also examine the “involvement of Walt Disney World employees and agents” in the district and “any financial gain or benefit derived by Walt Disney World” coming from the district.

Disney seems to have gotten one over on the DeSantis administration. But it is far too early for the company to declare victory just yet. The governor is expected to announce his candidacy for the presidency in short order, and he will not want to be in a position where losing to Disney could hurt his chances of becoming the nominee. In light of this, it is fair to assume he will do whatever is necessary to turn this situation around. Still, it is unclear which party will get the last laugh in this conflict. But it might be entertaining to watch.

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