Florida Governor Ron DeSantis just took control of Walt Disney World

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks as he announces a proposal for Digital Bill of Rights, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023, at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks as he announces a proposal for Digital Bill of Rights, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023, at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Fla. Copyright Wilfredo Lee/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
By Jonny Walfisz with AP
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"There's a new sheriff in town." Until this week, Walt Disney World had a self-governing district in Florida. Unhappy with their progressive politics, Ron DeSantis has wrestled control away.

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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis just took control of Walt Disney World’s self-governing district in response to Disney’s opposition of the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law.

If that sentence looks almost AI-generated, let’s unpack it for you. First off, the Republican politician DeSantis is one of the tipped front-runners for the 2024 US Presidential Elections. Last year, DeSantis signed a bill that bars lessons for kindergartens to third-grade students from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity.

The controversial bill is known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law in Florida, and the Disney company’s then-CEO Bob Chapek publicly opposed the DeSantis and Republican bill in March.

In an act of what is seemingly petty revenge, DeSantis has spent the last year trying to punish the company by dissolving the self-governing district the company has for its theme parks in Florida.

The creation of the self-governing district was instrumental in Disney's decision to build near Orlando in the 1960s. The company had told the state it planned to build a futuristic city that would include a transit system and urban planning innovations, so the company needed autonomy in building and deciding how to use the land. The futuristic city never materialised and instead morphed into a second theme park that opened in 1982.

Ted Shaffrey/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved.
Performers dressed as Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Donald Duck and Daisy Duck entertain visitors at Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World Resort in FloridaTed Shaffrey/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved.

DeSantis directed lawmakers in the Republican-dominated legislature to bring the self-governing district back under Republican control. On Monday, he signed a bill that gave him full control of the district.

The bill requires DeSantis, a Republican, to appoint a five-member board to oversee the government services that the Disney district provides in its sprawling theme park properties in Florida.

"Today the corporate kingdom finally comes to an end," he said at a bill signing ceremony in Lake Buena Vista. "There's a new sheriff in town, and accountability will be the order of the day."

By taking on Disney, DeSantis furthered his reputation as a culture warrior willing to battle perceived political enemies and wield the power of state government to accomplish political goals, a strategy that is expected to continue ahead of his potential White House run.

Disney did not immediately return AP’s request for comment.

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