Disney sued Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday over the Republican’s takeover of its theme park district, alleging the governor waged a “targeted campaign of government retaliation” after the company opposed a law critics call “Don’t Say G@y.”
The complaint was filed in Tallahassee only minutes after a Disney World oversight board formed by DeSantis voted to cancel a pact that gives the business control over the design and construction choices of its extensive resorts near Orlando.
“Disney regrets that it has come to this,” the case said. “But having exhausted efforts to seek a resolution, the Company is left with no choice but to file this lawsuit to protect its cast members, guests, and local development partners from a relentless campaign to weaponize government power against Disney in retaliation for expressing a political viewpoint unpopular with certain State officials.”
The legal filing is the latest salvo in a more than year-old feud between Disney and DeSantis that has engulfed the governor in criticism as he prepares to launch an expected presidential bid in the coming months.
DeSantis, who has framed himself as a Republican firebrand capable of implementing his conservative agenda without drama, has jumped into the fray with the beloved company and primary tourism driver, as business leaders and White House rivals criticize his stance as a rejection of conservative tenets of small government.
“We are unaware of any legal right that a company has to operate its own government or maintain special privileges not held by other businesses in the state,” said DeSantis spokeswoman Taryn Fenske. “This lawsuit is yet another unfortunate example of their hope to undermine the will of the Florida voters and operate outside the bounds of the law.”
The fight began last year after Disney, in the face of significant pressure, publicly opposed a state law that bans classroom lessons on s*xual orientation and gender identity in early grades, a policy critics call “Don’t Say G@y.”
DeSantis took over Disney World’s self-governing area as retribution and formed a new board of supervisors to supervise municipal services throughout the vast theme parks. However, before the arrival of the new board, the firm pushed through an 11th-hour arrangement that deprived the new supervisors of much of their authority.
On Wednesday, the DeSantis board of directors stated that Disney’s decision to retain possession of their property was illegal and carried out without adequate public notice.
“Disney picked the fight with this board. We were not looking out for a fight,” said Martin Garcia, chair of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, before the vote, adding “Bottom line, what our lawyers have told us, is factually and legally what they created is an absolute legal mess. It will not work.”
DeSantis has also promised more retaliation, including suggestions to strengthen state regulation of the resort’s attractions and monorail and a proposal to establish a nearby prison. Also on Wednesday, the Florida Senate enacted legislation to enact such retributions and undoing agreements struck by the Reedy Creek board before the state took over. Before it can move forward, the House must still approve it.
Disney has said all agreements made with the previous board were legal and approved in a public forum. Disney CEO Bob Iger has also said that any actions against the company that threatens jobs or expansion at its Florida resort were ” anti-business ” and “anti-Florida.”
The Disney complaint requests that a federal judge overturn the governor’s seizure of the theme park district and the activities of the DeSantis monitoring board on the grounds that they violated the company’s free expression rights.
“A targeted campaign of government retaliation orchestrated at every step by Governor DeSantis as punishment for Disney’s protected speech now threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights,” according to the lawsuit.
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