LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (TND) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has been touring the country and is expected to run for president next year, said he's going to try again in his war to put the Walt Disney Company in its place.
Monday afternoon, he held a news conference at the Reedy Creek Administration Building in Lake Buena Vista, one of two tiny cities in the Reedy Creek Improvement District. The other is Bay Lake.
Reedy Creek was the name of Disney World's governing board, established by the Florida Legislature in 1967, before there was a Walt Disney World or any major attractions in central Florida, especially inland and away from beaches.
The lawmakers welcomed Disney and gave its governing board municipal powers that no other entertainment company has. There was no plan or even discussion on taking it away until a half-century later when the company’s former CEO said he didn’t like part of the governor’s culture war agenda.
Last year, DeSantis organized a special legislative session to retaliate against Disney for opposing the controversial law unofficially known as “Don’t Say Gay,” barring school instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.
Since then, his arguments have been that Disney should not be special, there should be a level playing field with its competitors, and that Disney believes in a "woke" ideology.
The Republican legislature supermajority took away the special status.
Then, this February, it changed Reedy Creek’s name to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and let DeSantis appoint five new members.
"The corporate kingdom finally comes to an end," DeSantis said when he signed that bill. "There's a new sheriff in town and accountability will be the order of the day."
One of his five appointees — former pastor Ron Peri — said chemicals placed in the water cause homosexuality.
“Some would say the increase in estrogen in our societies,” Peri tried to explain in January 2022, before being hand-picked for a position of responsibility by the governor. “You know, there’s estrogen in the water from birth control pills. They can’t get it out.”
Studies show there are minuscule traces of estrogen in drinking water; however, it is not affecting Americans and is not a result of birth control pills.
The new board chair is Martin Garcia, whose law firm contributed $50,000 to DeSantis' reelection campaign. Another member is Sarasota County School Board member Bridget Ziegler, whose husband is chair of the Republican Party of Florida.
The governor also spent much of the past year saying there would be no way Disney’s debt from Reedy Creek got passed on to taxpayers.
Little did he know the Disney appointees abdicated most powers to the company, leaving the new board impotent.
The new board members said the old ones pulled a fast one. DeSantis cried foul.
Disney did basically special deals to circumvent that whole process,” he claimed.
“They negotiated with themselves,” he said of Disney. “That’s in direct defiance of the will of the people of Florida.”
Later, he said reporting on the issue was incorrect.
“Their cheerleaders in the media thought that Disney ‘outsmarted’ the state, but the new control board uncovered their sloppy scheme, and the agreements will be nullified by new legislation that I intend to execute," he wrote in a news release. "Disney will operate on a level playing field with every other business in Florida. I look forward to the additional actions that the state control board will implement in the upcoming days.”
The Declaration of Restrictive Covenants, which lets Disney have the final say on alterations to the property and forces the board to inform Disney of any plans, came 19 days before DeSantis signed the final bill, according to National Public Radio.
Peri told WKMG that means the new board will not have "the majority of its ability to do anything beyond maintain the roads and maintain basic infrastructure."
Another issue is how long the declaration will last.
The answer is quite a while; specifically, "until twenty-one (21) years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III."
The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District will meet again Wednesday and try to make sure that doesn't happen.
The DeSantis appointees may vote on a resolution saying the board has “superior authority” over all land development decisions for the 27,000 acres that make up Walt Disney World, including the two tiny cities.
Meanwhile, DeSantis said what Disney did has "a plethora of legal infirmities" and that he expects new legislation from his Republican supermajority next week. He pointed to Florida Statutes Section 163.3241, which "requires revocation of a development agreement if the Legislature subsequently enacts legislation that precludes compliance with the agreement."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.