ORLANDO, Fla. — One political statement led to an ongoing political chess game between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Walt Disney World.
The yearlong Disney and DeSantis feud started back in March last year when Disney’s then-CEO Bob Chapek spoke out against the proposed Parental Rights in Education bill, known by critics as the “don’t say gay” bill.
The legislation bars schools from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through the third grade.
Here’s a play-by-play of how that statement led to a political back-and-forth that culminated with Disney filing a federal lawsuit against DeSantis:
Jan. 11, 2022: Members of the Florida House file HB1557, Parental Rights in Education.
Feb. 24, 2022: Bill passes the Florida House 69-47.
March 8, 2022: Florida Senate passes the bill 22-17.
March 9, 2022: Disney CEO Bob Chapek said in a shareholder call that he signed the Human Rights Campaign’s statement opposing Florida’s controversial Parental Rights in Education bill. Chapek said he would also donate $5 million to the organization following HB1557′s passage.
Chapek said he called DeSantis that morning to discuss the company’s concerns. He said DeSantis agreed to meet with Chapek and LGBTQ members of the Disney team. Chapek said DeSantis told him the law would not be “weaponized” to target the LGBTQ community.
March 11, 2022: DeSantis fires back at Disney. His office released a statement that read in part: “Woke Disney is now echoing Democrat propaganda and falling for the corporate media’s phony hysteria over a Florida bill that sensibly prohibits K through third graders from being indoctrinated with transgenderism and R-rated lessons about sexuality.”
The same day, Chapek announced that Disney would be pausing all political donations in Florida in response to the passage of the Parental Rights in Education bill.
Chapek also apologized to employees for taking so long to speak out against the bill.
“You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down. I am sorry.” Chapek said.
March 22, 2022: Disney cast members staged a full-day walkout in protest of what they called Chapek’s lack of action over the bill.
March 28, 2022: DeSantis signs Parental Rights in Education into law at the Classical Preparatory School in Spring Hill, about 46 miles north of Tampa.
April 19, 2022: DeSantis announced that Florida legislators would consider whether to end special districts put into place before 1968, including the one that gives Walt Disney World Resort essentially its own government, during their special session.
Since Disney moved to Florida in the ’60s, the park has been able to operate its own government, providing its own services for things like fire, roads, and water.
April 21, 2022: The Florida legislature voted to abolish Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District two days after the governor added the decision to its special session.
“It’s obvious that this is political retribution that is at play here and that’s probably not the best solution,” Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said.
April 22, 2022: DeSantis signs the bill to dissolve Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District. The law would dissolve the district as of June 2023.
Nov. 20, 2022: The board of directors at Disney announced Sunday evening that Bob Iger would replace Bob Chapek as CEO effective immediately.
Jan. 31, 2023: DeSantis’ Press Secretary released a statement confirming the governor “anticipates a special session next week on Reedy Creek and other items.”
Feb. 8, 2023: A State House committee passed changes to Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District. The bill changes the name of the district to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. It also gives DeSantis authority to appoint a five-member Board of Supervisors that would direct the district.
As the Florida House was passing legislation to give DeSantis his new power, Reedy Creek’s board members signed a development agreement with the company that allowed Disney maximum developmental power over its territory for the next 30 years.
Feb. 10, 2023: State lawmakers approved the bill shifting thecontrol of the Reedy Creek Improvement District away from Disney.
Meanwhile, Walt Disney World said it does not plan to fight the changes being made to Reedy Creek Improvement District and will let Gov. Ron DeSantis take control of its Board of Supervisors.
Feb 27, 2023: DeSantis signed a law dissolving Disney World’s Reedy Creek Improvement District putting it under state control. “Today, the corporate kingdom finally comes to an end,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis appointed the following people to run the state-controlled board:
- Martin Garcia, an attorney from Tampa, as chairman
- Sarasota County School Board member Bridget Ziegler
- Clearwater attorney Brian Aungst
- Attorney Michael Sasso
- Chairman and CEO of The Gathering USA Ron Peri
March 30, 2023: The new Central Florida Tourism Oversight board said in a meeting that they discovered that in their final days of controlling the Reedy Creek improvement district’s board, Disney executives and attorneys found a way to poison the authority of the incoming members.
March 31, 2023: Attorney General Ashley Moody waded into the fight between Disney and Reedy Creek over developmental control of the taxing district one day after officials revealed Disney stripped the new state-appointed board of its most important oversight powers before it handed over the keys. Moody demanded records from the district.
April 3, 2023: DeSantis orders an investigation into the former board of the Reedy Creek Improvement District.
April 17, 2023: DeSantis said there is legislation coming that will revoke a development agreement passed by the Reedy Creek board before the state took it over.
April 26, 2023: Disney files a lawsuit against DeSantis on Wednesday claiming the governor launched a “targeted campaign of government retaliation” against the company over differences of political opinion.
May 1, 2023: The chairman of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board announced Monday that the board is suing Disney back in state court.
“Since Disney sued us, we have no choice now but to respond,” Chairman Martin Garcia said.
May 18, 2023: The Walt Disney Company said that it will no longer be moving forward with its plans to open a $1 billion campus in Orlando’s Lake Nona development.
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