GettyImages 1421747168 e1670112705367

Florida’s fight with Disney wouldn’t have happened ‘if Bob Iger had been CEO,’ says top DeSantis ally

Earlier this year, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation that in 2023 would dissolve a special governmental district that has given Disney large benefits for half a century, called Reedy Creek, unless it is reinstated by the legislature. The move was triggered by what the Republican governor saw as Disney’s criticism of a law he signed limiting elementary school teaching on gender identity.

Sponsor of law cutting Florida entertainment giant’s benefits, says Representative Randy Fine said he was encouraged by last month’s ouster of Disney CEO Bob Chapek, who led the opposition to DeSantis’ so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law. Fine said the discussions were being aided by signs that returning Disney CEO Bob Iger will steer clear of the Florida policy.

“I think Mr. Iger has already said that it was probably a misstep by the company and how they handled it,” Fine said in an interview. “I don’t think we would be in this situation if Bob Iger had been CEO.”

The move pitted DeSantis against one of Florida’s largest and most powerful employers, known for several iconic theme parks in Orlando. DeSantis, who is widely believed to be planning a 2024 presidential run, has made the bashing against Disney a key part of his so-called “anti-wakeup” agenda. Florida’s governor has repeatedly vowed to prosecute corporations that stand against him in cultural struggles over race, gender identity and abortion. Fighting what he called “the revival” was the foundation of a reelection campaign that gave DeSantis one of the biggest landslide victories by any Republican in the US midterm elections in November.

DeSantis will not be making “U-turns” from the law he signed into law this year, his chief spokesman said. The governor will not reverse pledges to remove “the extraordinary benefit afforded to a corporation,” press secretary Bryan Griffin said in an emailed statement. “A plan is in the works and will be released soon.”

Iger to “calm things down” in Florida

One goal would be to ensure that Disney is responsible for repaying nearly $1 billion in special district-issued municipal bonds, DeSantis said. “We will have a level playing field for businesses in Florida, and the state certainly doesn’t owe a corporation any special favors,” Griffin said. “Disney debts will not fall on Florida taxpayers.”

A Disney spokesperson declined to comment. In a recent floor meeting with Disney employees, Iger said, “Do I like that the company is embroiled in controversy? Obviously not.”

“It can be distracting and have a negative impact on the business. To the extent that I can calm things down, I will,” he said, adding that he is still “updating” on the situation with Reedy Creek and that he doesn’t have the full details on the fallout from Florida’s decision.

Legislation to be replaced Reedy Creek it will try to eliminate benefits that no other company enjoys except Disney, said Fine, who said he was involved in the discussions between lawmakers and the governor. Fine declined to comment on the details of the discussions or what privileges might be at stake once a new law is proposed in the Legislature.

But he cited perks Disney has enjoyed, such as government-like powers to seize land via eminent domain and sell bonds. The Reedy Creek tax district was created by the legislature in 1967 in an agreement that resulted in the construction of Disney World. It gave Disney self-government power over 25,000 acres, including oversight of its building code and permits, which helped the company build faster.

“I think what you’re probably going to see are some of the things that just didn’t make sense,” Fine said. “You know, it’s not going to be, ‘Oops, let’s go back to how it was.’ You will see something fundamentally different.

Iger, in the large employee meeting, said he won’t back down on Disney being a “good citizen of the world,” who is sometimes mistakenly branded a politician.

“I think there’s a misperception here of what politics is,” he explained. “I think some of the topics that have proven controversial in relation to Disney have been labeled as political, and I don’t necessarily think they are.”

—With assistance from Thomas Buckley