As a Florida resident, I am living through one of the most remarkable battles between the largest employer in the State and an ideological cult surrounding and including the Sunshine State’s Governor.
As a bit of background, Disney and Florida are at war.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is a complex character. He wants to be the next President of America. To achieve this, he needs to gain the Republican nomination. Standing partially in his way is the shuffling, stoop shouldered, flamboyantly quaffed Donald Trump.
Ron and Don used to be friends. Ron backed Don in his Presidential Campaign last time. But now Don wants to be President again, but so does Ron.
While Don is struggling to overcome his legal challenges and possible criminal indictments, as last week’s blog discussed, Ron is using that to his advantage.
Ron is trying to win over the hardcore supporters who propelled Trump to power in 2016: Angry white people, disgruntled veterans, Karens, racists, sexists, antisemites, homophobes, gun-lovers and most importantly the Christian religious right.
The Christian Right could, and probably will, become a political party of their own pretty soon.
They have fundamental beliefs based on 16th century interpretations of 2000-year-old Jewish writings – which strangely doesn’t seem to trouble them, yet – and are either interpreting them to suit their situation or demanding they be followed, erm, religiously like gospel.
Ron has a lot of these people as close friends and advisers and they are making laws and rules based on their beliefs.
Last week Friends of Ron (FOR) declared Michelangelo’s David pornographic, and a veteran art teacher was fired for sharing the image in school.
Florida’s FOR had also recently presented the so called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Laws to the Governor and he happily approved them making it an offence to talk about gender, sexuality, or orientation in schools, adding the ability for parents to sue teachers or educators who did.
And earlier in the year, in scenes reminiscent of the dark days of Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot and Germany in the Thirties – schools were given lists of books which were banned and to be removed from libraries and reading lists.
At the top of the list of banned books were those written by queers.
Anything which could possibly be deemed as ‘gay’ or promoting anything but the nuclear family of mum and dad was subversive according to FOR, and only one step away from turning your budding high school football superstar into a cross dressing, show-song-singing, flaming homo.
Angry Karens took over school libraries, ripping books apart, piling classic literature in pyres.
So, you ask, what has all this got to do with Disney?
Well, Disney is possibly the biggest employer of theatrical stars and performers in the world let alone the state and a significant percentage of their ‘cast members’ are LGBTQ+ or supportive of gay rights and gender recognition laws. They demanded Disney flexed its powerful muscles and speak up for them.
After a bit of a delay, the top folks at Disney let it be publicly known they didn’t think much of Ron’s rules and were opposed to it.
Ron wasn’t happy. FOR and Christian groups urged their congregations to boycott Disney and go to the nice people at Universal Theme Parks instead because they had the decency to stay silent on the issue.
Disney went a step further and made it clear that their political advocacy – which is the way we politely describe bunging huge sums of money to candidates before elections – would be reviewed in light of this matter.
Never mind gay rights, praying for sinners, or book burnings – when the political funding pipeline is turned off, it gets real.
DeSantis and his little helpers went to work.
Disney sits on a huge tract of drained swamp in the centre of Florida. As part of the deal to get the animation giant to open his biggest and best theme park there and subsequently change the entire economy of the region from citrus to tourism, a deal was cut with Disney to let it run the development on its own terms. Managed almost as a city in and of itself, it has its own fire brigade, security, manages its storm water issues and generates electricity which it shares with surrounding communities.
According to FOR, if Disney was going to ‘side with the queers’ then they were going to pay.
That Special Authority, known for 50-plus years as The Reedy Creek Improvement District, was threatened, and with DeSantis leading the assault, abolished at the end of February this year.
“Today, the corporate kingdom finally comes to an end,” DeSantis told a press conference held at a fire station on Disney property. “There’s a new sheriff in town, and accountability will be the order of the day.”
It is unclear if Governor DeSantis was dressed as Woody from Toy Story when he made this Churchillian pronouncement.
A new Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD) was instantly set up and Sheriff DeSantis declared he was personally picking the new board members.
First, he appointed Bridget Ziegler, who co-founded the conservative Moms for Liberty and is wife to Christian Ziegler, the new chair of Republican Party of Florida. Then Ron unveiled Ron Peri, CEO of The Gathering USA, a Christian ministry as a member of the board. He then added lawyer Martin Garcia of Tampa, whose private investment firm contributed to DeSantis’ election, appointing him as the new chair.
DeSantis then appointed more attorneys, Michael Sasso and Brian Aungst, to the board perhaps sensing this could become legally challenging soon.
Disney was pissed. They met inside the Magic Kingdom and started to hatch a plan to wrestle control back from the evil Sheriff and put it in the grateful hands of the princesses, queens and fairies once again.
But no-one could possibly have guessed the absolute diamond their army of super talented lawyers would concoct to achieve this.
While the Sheriff and his new henchmen and women were busy celebrating and arranging their fees and dividends for serving on the new CFTOD, quietly and without drawing attention to themselves, the outgoing team triggered a loophole clause.
While the other woodland folks slept, the good people of Reedy Creek gathered to propose and approve without fanfare a contentious agreement just a day before Sheriff DeSantis was expecting to assumed more control of Disney’s kingdom.
The new agreement they signed utilised an obscure property law, occasionally used in the Great Britain but previously unheard of in the USA – the Rule Against Perpetuities.
Disney being Disney, never one to miss an opportunity to generate headlines, create blockbuster theatre or bring the glamour of the stage to even the most turgid of legal affairs chose some spectacular language to shroud their new agreement in.
Establishing the expiration terms of the new agreement, Disney set that date as:
“twenty one (21) years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles IIII, King of England living as of the date of this Declaration.”
I can only imagine this was cried out in the Town Square by a man dressed in forest green tights with a squirrel’s head before being nailed to the town hall door for all the Disney folk to read.
The Sheriff’s preacher friend was none-too-happy.
“This essentially makes Disney the government,” Ron Peri huffed. “This board loses, for practical purposes, the majority of its ability to do anything beyond maintain the roads and maintain basic infrastructure.”
‘Moms for Liberty’ boss Bridgit Zeigler was fuming too.
“The arrogance of @disney continues” she tweeted “From ignoring parents and allowing radicals to sexualize our children, to now ignoring Florida taxpayers by sneaking in a last minute sweetheart development agreement, Disney has once again overplayed their hand in Florida.”
Whether she ordered a step-daughter to scrub the hearth as a consequence is unclear.
This is destined for the courts, of course, its America, but a mouse master stroke, I’m sure you will agree.