(CNN) Appearing on the doorstep of Walt Disney World, Florida Govt. Ron DeSantis Signed A ticket Monday gives him new powers over Disney, effectively punishing the entertainment company for speaking out against the Republican political agenda.
The new law is a state takeover Ready Creek Improvement District, the government body that granted Disney unique powers in Central Florida for more than half a century. It allows the governor to replace the district’s current board — mostly people with ties to Disney — with a five-member board he handpicks.
“Today, the corporate empire is finally coming to an end,” DeSantis said Monday at the Reedy Creek Fire Station in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. “There’s a new sheriff in town and accountability will be the order of the day.”
DeSantis announced his appointments to a reshuffled board, including Tampa attorney and top Republican donor Martin Garcia, whose private investment firm donated $50,000 to DeSantis’ re-election bid, and Bridget Ziegler, a Sarasota County school board member who co-founded Conservatism. Moms for Liberty and the wife of Christian Ziegler, the new chairman of Florida’s Republican Party.
The new committee is scheduled to meet next week, DeSantis said, “so buckle up.”
In a statement to CNN after the bill passed the state legislature earlier this month, Walt Disney World Resorts President Jeff Valle said the company is “ready to operate within this new framework, and we will continue to innovate, promote and deliver.” A delight for the millions of guests who come to Florida to visit Walt Disney World each year.”
The action against Disney comes nearly a year after the company spoke out against a Florida bill — which DeSantis later signed into law — that would have restricted some classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity. In March of last year, as outrage against the law spread across the country, Disney released a statement pledging to help the law be overturned or struck down in court and that the company is “committed to standing up for the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ members. The Disney family, Florida and the LGBTQ+ community across the country.”
DeSantis called on lawmakers to strip Disney of its special governing authority, ending a longstanding arrangement they struck last year that allowed the company to develop its sprawling, iconic Orlando-area theme parks as international tourist destinations as well as state ones. Most important economic engines.
Lawmakers, however, reversed course amid concerns that Reedy Creek’s loan and contracts violated state law that created the special tax district. Instead, DeSantis’ appointees will be responsible for the county’s long-standing powers to tax, build and borrow for projects and services around Disney’s vast footprint in Orange and Osceola counties. It renames Reedy Creek a Central Florida Tourism Supervisory District, restricts its use of eminent domain and removes never-used powers that would have allowed Disney to build its own airport or nuclear power plant.
A new future for Reedy Creek was passed by the GOP-led state Legislature in a special session earlier this month.
“Disney really came out against protecting young children and making sure students can read, write, add, subtract, and go to school without a teacher telling them they can change their gender,” DeSantis said Monday. “I think most parents would agree with that. But you know, it was just a mild annoyance. I think what we realized after that dust settled was that you clearly had a movement within the organization.”
The story with Disney is central to the narrative surrounding DeSantis’ rise among the 2024 Republican presidential contenders, and a demonstration of how far the Republican Party has gone to push its “war on awareness.” In taking over Disney, DeSantis stunned one of the state’s biggest and most influential employers. With an army of lobbyists and millions in past campaign donations to Republican lawmakers, it often gained more influence in Florida’s legislative halls of power.
While the move has been celebrated by conservative media outlets, many of DeSantis’ GOP rivals have been critical. Former Vice President Mike Pence said the conflict with Disney was “beyond what I would be willing to do as a conservative, limited-government Republican.” And New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu said fining businesses for political speech is “the worst precedent in the world.”
DeSantis shrugged off such criticism. Monday’s bill-signing event turned into Disney’s longest downgrade. DeSantis featured speakers who attacked the company’s vaccination and mask policies, the treatment of firefighters and its latest entertainment offerings.