TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – Disney sued Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday over the Republican’s takeover of its theme park district, alleging the governor waged a “targeted campaign of government retaliation” after the company opposed a law critics call “Don’t Say Gay.”
The suit, filed in Tallahassee, was filed minutes after a Disney World oversight board appointed by DeSantis voted to void a deal that placed theme park design and construction decisions in the company’s hands.
It’s the latest conflict in an ongoing feud between DeSantis, a Republican expected to run for president, and Disney, a powerful political player and major tourism driver in Florida.
The dispute with Disney has drawn significant criticism from the governor’s White House rivals and business leaders who view it as an extraordinary rejection of the small-government tenets of conservatism.
The fight began last year after Disney, in the face of significant pressure, publicly opposed a state law that bans classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades, a policy critics call “Don’t Say Gay.”
As punishment, DeSantis took over Disney World’s self-governing district and appointed a new board of supervisors that would oversee municipal services in the sprawling theme parks. But before the new board came in, the company pushed though an 11th hour agreement that stripped the new supervisors of much of their authority.
The DeSantis board on Wednesday said Disney’s move to retain control over their property was effectively unlawful and performed without proper public notice.
“Disney picked the fight with this board. We were not looking out for a fight,” said Martin Garcia, chair of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, adding “bottom line, what our lawyers have told us, is factually and legally what they created is an absolute legal mess. It will not work.”
DeSantis has also vowed additional retribution, with proposals to enhance state oversight of the resort’s rides and monorail, as well as a suggestion to build a prison nearby.
Disney has said all agreements made with the previous board were legal and approved in a public forum. Disney CEO Bob Iger has also said that any actions against the company that threaten jobs or expansion at its Florida resort was not only “anti-business” but “anti-Florida.”