Disney’s self-governing district that it uses to run its Florida theme parks has been taken over by the state’s governor, in an apparent punishment for its opposition to legislation about LGBTQ+ education.
Ron DeSantis, who is widely tipped as a challenger for the White House next year, signed a bill taking control of Reedy Creek Improvement District on Monday, renaming it Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.
Disney used its own government to make quick decisions about infrastructure at its sprawling theme park site near Orlando, without having to go to the state for approval.
The Reedy Creek district was established in 1967 after the company’s founder, Walt Disney, laid plans for a futuristic city, arguing he needed complete oversight of the project.
That city later became Epcot, the company’s second Florida theme park.
Mr DeSantis set his sights on the district after Disney publicly said it opposed his bill that prevents the teaching of sex and gender identity from kindergarten to the third grade, and in lessons where it is not deemed appropriate.
Disney’s then CEO Bob Chapek was criticised by many of his staff for not responding quickly enough to the law, which was deemed by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
In return, Mr DeSantis said Disney, which is one of his state’s biggest employers and its single biggest taxpayer, was a purveyor of “woke” ideology that shows inappropriate material to children.
Speaking at an event in Lake Buena Vista near the theme park complex, Mr DeSantis said: “Since the 1960s, they’ve enjoyed privileges unlike any company or individual in the state of Florida has ever enjoyed.
“They had exemptions from laws that everyone else had to follow. They were able to get huge amounts of benefits without paying their fair share of taxes.
“How do you give one theme park its own government and then treat all of the other theme parks differently?
“So we believe that that was not good policy. We believe that being joined at the hip with this one California-based company was not something that was justifiable or sustainable.”
Mr DeSantis, who has a book coming out this week and has been expanding his profile in recent months, said Disney’s theme parks, of which it has four in the area, will now be governed in the same way as the likes of SeaWorld and Universal Studios.
The bill effectively ends Disney’s control of the area and hands it to the state, and means that the Florida government can appoint its own board to the area, so long as they haven’t been employed by Disney in the last three years.
The first board members include the wife of the chairman of Florida’s Republican party, a local Republican mayor, and the head of an evangelical missionary group.
Disney has not yet commented on the move.