Gov. Ron DeSantis Appoints “Jeopardy” Game Show Champion to Disney World’s New Board

jeopardy logo cinderella castle and ron desantis
Credit: Flickr/Joe Penniston/ABC News/Canva

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s new board member appointee to the former Reedy Creek board at Disney World has a very competitive and victorious past–and we’re not just referring to his winning personality.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Speech ABC News

Credit: Disney/ABC

On Thursday, Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed a new board member to replace a former member who suddenly resigned from his position only days ago, but the new appointee’s resume includes some very interesting experience.

In February, Gov. DeSantis and the Florida legislature met in Tallahassee for a special session to determine the ultimate fate of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the self-governing body responsible for oversight at the Walt Disney World Resort in Central Florida near Orlando. Up for discussion was the prospect of a state government takeover of Disney’s special tax district, which was incepted in the mid-1960s following the request of Walt Disney and his brother Roy O. Disney.

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From left to right, Walt Disney, Governor Haydon Burns, and Roy Disney at the press conference announcing Disney’s investment in Orlando, Florida, November 15, 1965. Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida.

Credit: Florida State Archives

During the special session, Gov. DeSantis signed into law House Bill 9B, which brought about a myriad of changes for Disney’s self-governing body that had been in place for more than five decades. A statement on the official website of the Florida Governor’s office titled, “Governor Ron DeSantis Signs Legislation Ending the Corporate Kingdom of Walt Disney World,” explained the accomplishments of the new law.

“Today, Governor Ron DeSantis signed House Bill (HB) 9-B, Reedy Creek Improvement District, Orange, and Osceola Counties, to end self-governing status and special privileges provided to Walt Disney World through the Reedy Creek Improvement District and establish a new state-controlled district accountable to the people of Florida. The bill provides legislative intent on the district’s authority to raise revenue and pay outstanding bonds and other obligations without interruption.”

“Allowing a corporation to control its own government is bad policy, especially when the corporation makes decisions that impact an entire region,” said Gov. DeSantis. “This legislation ends Disney’s self-governing status, makes Disney live under the same laws as everybody else, and ensures that Disney pays its debts and fair share of taxes.”
GOP Gov. DeSantis signs Florida election bill into law amid new controversy  - ABC7 Los Angeles

Credit: ABC News

According to the governor’s website, the new law ends the following:

  • ENDS Disney’s self-governing status.
  • ENDS Disney’s exemption from the Florida Building Code and Florida Fire Prevention Code.
  • ENDS Disney’s exemption from state regulatory reviews and approvals.
  • ENDS Disney’s secrecy by ensuring transparency. 

Florida’s special session in February also resulted in the governor’s exclusive right to appoint members to the newly-renamed Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. Shortly after the special session adjourned, Gov. DeSantis announced the names of the five new board members he hand-selected to serve: Bridget Ziegler, Brian Aungst, Jr., Mike Sasso, Martin Garcia, and Ron Peri.

Only three months after DeSantis appointed new board members to oversee the goings-on at the Most Magical Place on Earth, one of the new members suddenly resigned. On May 22, Michael Sasso–DeSantis appointee and attorney with a practice that focuses on “high-stakes litigation” in both the state and federal courts in Florida–announced his resignation, according to Spectrum News13. Sasso’s wife, Michelle, was appointed to the Florida State Supreme Court by Gov. DeSantis only days later, and her appointment was said to be the reason for Mr. Sasso’s resignation.

On Thursday, DeSantis appointed a new board member to replace Sasso: Charbel Barakat. Barakat will serve in Sasso’s place on the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District Board of Supervisors.

“I’m honored to be asked by Gov. DeSantis to serve the people of Florida,” Barakat said in a prepared statement. “I hope to help bring additional efficiency, safety, and accountability to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District so that it may better serve the common good.”

Barakat serves as General Counsel for D. R. Horton, Inc., but there’s something far more interesting on his resume. In 2018, Barakat won approximately $30,000 on a televised episode of the game show Jeopardy! 

Per the Florida Governor’s New Release:

“Barakat, of Tampa, is the Regional General Counsel for D.R. Horton, Inc. He currently serves as a Commissioner for the Second District Court of Appeal Judicial Nominating Commission and serves on the Florida Development Finance Corporation. Barakat is Vice President of the Federalist Society for the Tampa Bay Chapter and Chairman of the Volume Builders Council for the Florida Home Builders Association. Barakat earned his bachelor’s degree in international studies from Johns Hopkins University and his juris doctor from New York University School of Law.”

Barakat awaits confirmation by the Florida Senate.

About Becky Burkett

Becky's from the Lone Star State and has been writing since she was 10 and encountered her first Disney Park when she was 11. It was love at first Main Street Electrical Parade. Joy is blank lined journals, 0.7 mm pens, and all things Walt, Woody and Buzz, PIXAR, Imagineering, Sleeping Beauty (make it blue!), Disney Parks history and EPCOT. At Disney World, you'll find her croonin' with the birdies at the Enchanted Tiki Room or hangin' with Woody and the gang at Toy Story Land. If you can dream, you really can do it!