It’s already been a very busy week for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
On Monday, DeSantis announced his picks for new members who will serve on the board for the new-and-improved version of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, now called the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, thanks to a new provision that was first introduced by Florida lawmakers in early February 2023 during a special session. The new law gives DeSantis exclusive control over deciding who serves on the board.
The next day, the 44-year-old governor’s new memoir, titled, The Courage to be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for American Revival was released by HarperCollins Publishers. And while the questions about when/whether DeSantis will announce his 2024 Presidential bid are not answered in the new book, the memoir does give readers some insight into what was actually taking place behind the scenes as the battle brewed between Disney and the Florida government following the passing of the Parental Rights in Education bill in March 2022.
In a chapter of his new book, DeSantis talks about Disney’s then-CEO Bob Chapek, who he says reached out to him and complained about the “pressure” he faced related to the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” debacle. DeSantis recounts the conversation, saying, “As the controversy over the Parental Rights in Education bill was coming to a head, Chapek called me; he did not want Disney to get involved, but he was getting a lot of pressure to weigh in against the bill.”
Last spring, Chapek told shareholders that he had spoken with Florida’s governor on March 9, urging him not to sign House Bill 1557, which was designed to keep public school teachers of Kindergarten through third grade students from using curriculum time to teach about gender identity and sexuality. Opponents of the bill referred to it as the “Don’t Say Gay bill,” even though no part of the bill’s language restricts teachers from saying the word gay. Further, the bill doesn’t restrict teachers in any grade from answering questions or speaking informally with students about those sensitive topics.
“I called Gov. DeSantis this morning to express our disappointment and concern that if the legislation becomes law, it could be used to unfairly target gay, lesbian, non-binary, and transgender kids and families,” Chapek said to Disney’s shareholders.
The New York Post reported that Chapek was hesitant to get Disney involved in Florida politics in the months leading up the passing of the passing of the new legislation, but he said he was pressured by some within The Walt Disney Company, as well as by Democrats nationwide, to finally take a stand against the proposed legislation.
But DeSantis says he warned Chapek, saying that if the Mouse House did get involved in Florida’s legislation, “People like me will say, ‘Gee, how come Disney has never said anything about China, where they make a fortune?’”
In his memoir, DeSantis says that he told Chapek that if Disney stayed out of the political scene brought about by opponents of the bill, the Company would likely face 48 hours of outrage once the bill was signed into law. “[And] when I sign it, you will get another 48 hours of outrage, mostly online,” DeSantis said. “Then there will be some new outrage that the woke mob will focus on, and people will forget about this issue, especially considering the outrage is directed at a political-media narrative, not the actual text of the legislation itself.”
DeSantis says in his book that Disney and Bob Chapek “ultimately caved to leftist media and activist pressure and pressed the false narrative against the bill.”
But despite the almost-prophetic warning to Chapek, the Florida governor writes that he was surprised when Disney took steps to “escalate the battle” against the new law, as the company vowed to support those who would work to see the law repealed. It was after Disney’s public statement, denoucning the signing of the bill into law, that DeSantis began to speak publicly about how Disney’s “woke” political activism could lead him to rethink the company’s special tax district in Florida–the Reedy Creek Improvement District.
“Behind the scenes, I was not, as a father of children ages five, four, and two, comfortable with the continuation of Disney’s special arrangement,” DeSantis wrote in his memoir about Reedy Creek. “While the Walt Disney Company and its executives had a right to indulge in woke activism, Florida did not have to place the company on a pedestal while they did so—especially when the company’s activism impacted the rights of parents and the well-being of children.”
DeSantis goes on to say that he was surprised again when–as Florida began to make good on its talk about removing Disney’s special status in the state–left-wing voices and entities began to side with a big corporation–one of the biggest in the country.
“Even though Democrats often rail about the nefarious power exerted over politics by large corporations, and supposedly oppose special carveouts for big companies, they all dutifully lined up in support of keeping Disney’s special self-governing status,” DeSantis writes.
Per FOX News:
The lesson of the Disney saga, according to DeSantis, is that in an environment of “woke capital” where large companies employ their influence to advance left-wing political agendas, “old-guard corporate Republicanism is not up to the task at hand.”
DeSantis’ book aims to showcase his governing thesis that fighting for conservative principles paid off for Florida and could benefit other states and even the whole country. As a rumored 2024 presidential hopeful, DeSantis has led former President Donald Trump in a few early primary polls. He has not announced whether he will run.
Bob Chapek was removed from his post at Disney in November 2022 and replaced by veteran CEO Bob Iger. During a town hall meeting with Cast Members in November, Iger said to Disney Company employees, “Do I like the company being embroiled in controversy? Of course not. It can be distracting, and it can have a negative impact on the company. And to the extent that I can work to kind of quiet things down, I’m going to do that,” signaling his understanding about the importance of keeping the company out of the politics in Florida–and anywhere else for that matter.
Time will tell if Iger will keep to that commitment and whether the relationship between Disney and the State of Florida can be mended.