Disney CEO Iger slams DeSantis over Florida retaliation

Bob Iger called Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis actions Monday The Walt Disney Co. Retaliation, “Anti-Business” and “Anti-Florida”.

The feud between DeSantis and the company escalated early Monday when the governor asked the state’s inspector general to determine whether the House of Mouse’s clever move to retain control of the outer borders of Orange and Osceola counties is legal — and whether any of the company’s executives were involved in the scheme.

During the company’s annual shareholder meeting on Monday, Disney CEO Iger addressed investor inquiries about the ongoing dispute between the company and Florida lawmakers. He pointed out that Disney has more than 75,000 employees in the state and has created thousands of indirect jobs, brings about 50 million visitors to Florida each year, and is the state’s largest taxpayer

“A year ago, the company commented on pending legislation in Florida,” Iger said, apparently referring to what critics called the “Don’t Say Gay” law. “And while the company may not have handled the position it took very well, just like individuals, a company has a right to free speech.”

Bob Iger, CEO, Disney, during a CNBC interview, February 9, 2023.

Randy Shropshire | CNBC

He added: “The governor was very angry with the position Disney has taken and it appears he has decided to retaliate against us, including naming a new board to oversee the property and business. Indeed, to try to punish a company for exercising a constitutional right. And that seems really wrong to me.”

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Iger said Disney plans to spend more than $17 billion investing in Walt Disney World over the next decade, which would create about 13,000 jobs at the company and generate even more taxes for Florida.

“Our point on this is that any action that supports this effort simply to retaliate for a position the company has taken sounds not only anti-business but also anti-Florida,” he said. “And I’ll just leave it at that.”

Last week, the newly appointed DeSantis board of directors for the Reedy Creek district, now called the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, revealed that the former Disney-allied board signed a long-term agreement that drastically reduces the control that can be exercised over the company restricts and its district.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during The Florida Blueprint event on Long Island, New York, U.S. April 1, 2023. Ron DeSantis commented on the grand jury indictment of Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States, in Manhattan , New York.

Kyle Mazza | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The agreement was signed on Feb. 8, a day before the House of Florida voted to put DeSantis in charge. DeSantis replaced all Disney-allied board members with five Republicans on February 27. Only then was Disney’s new binding agreement discovered.

The agreement contains a clause that dates back to 1692 in Britain. The “Declaration is intended to remain in force until 21 years after the death of the last surviving descendant of King Charles III, King of England, who is alive at the time of this Declaration,” the document said.

The governor’s letter called the board’s agreement an attempt “to usurp the authority of the CFTOD board” and “overturn recently passed legislation, undermine Florida’s legislative process and defy the will of Florida residents.”

He said there were also “legal weaknesses” with the agreement, including inadequate notification, improper delegation of authority and ethical violations.

However, Disney has said all of the board’s maneuvers were perfectly legal — the agreement was discussed and approved in open, respected public forums in accordance with Florida’s Sunshine Act.

Developments in the conflict between DeSantis and Disney mark just the latest step in one of several partisan struggles waged by the Republican governor.

DeSantis is widely believed to be laying the groundwork for launching a presidential campaign in 2024. That move is expected to come not long after the current Florida legislature ends in early May. Polls show DeSantis is the most competitive of the potential opponents for former President Donald Trump in a GOP primary.

Florida’s governor took aim at Disney after the company publicly challenged Florida’s HB 1557 law earlier last year. HB 1557, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law by critics, restricts teaching in early childhood education about sexual orientation or gender identity.

Republican Rep. Randy Fine told CNBC’s Squawk Box last April that the Reedy Creek dissolution bill was not retaliatory, but then said, “When Disney entered the hornet’s nest, we looked at specific counties.”

Until recently, there hasn’t been much public discussion about the dissolution of Disney’s 55-year special borough, leading DeSantis critics to question the timing and speed with which the governor had cracked down on the company.

The fight between DeSantis and Disney shows no signs of slowing down. During a book tour in Georgia last week, DeSantis told attendees, “You haven’t seen anything.”

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