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Image: Mickey Mouse rides through Main Street near Cinderella's castle at Disney World in 2001.
Mickey Mouse rides through Main Street near Cinderella's castle at Disney World in 2001.Joe Raedle / Getty Images file

Did Disney pull a fast one ahead of DeSantis’ takeover scheme?

Did Disney quietly take steps to undermine Gov. Ron DeSantis' takeover scheme? It sure looks like it.


Gov. Ron DeSantis’ fight with Disney began in earnest last year after he signed a proposal critics have labeled the “Don’t Say Gay” policy. The corporation, a powerhouse in the Sunshine State and Florida’s largest private employer, eventually criticized the anti-LGBTQ measure.

The Florida governor apparently felt the need, not only to disagree with the company’s opinion, but also to punish Disney for daring to issue mild and inconsequential criticisms of a measure he signed into law.

The Republican initially planned to revoke Disney World’s designation as a special tax district, but when that proved untenable — the policy would’ve raised taxes on many nearby Floridians — DeSantis settled on a plan that gave him greater control over the local district’s board. He signed the new policy into law about a month ago.

But what if Disney’s lawyers were more adept than the governor’s? NBC News reported this morning:

Just weeks before Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a new, hand-picked board to take over Disney’s long-held special governing district in Orlando, the entertainment giant created a declaration that said any changes to the district must be made to benefit Walt Disney World.

At issue is a document from early last month — issued the day before Republicans in the state House advanced the DeSantis takeover plan — brought to public attention today by the Orlando Sentinel.

As NBC News’ report added, it grants Disney “prior review and comment” over any changes made to properties in the local district, and forbids the political board from using Disney’s brand name or any of its trademarks. All of this, the document added, would be enforceable “in perpetuity.”

Evidently, the governor’s political appointees weren’t aware of any of this, and they’re not especially pleased. One told the Sentinel that Disney’s move represents a “subversion” of DeSantis’ scheme, and leaves the governor’s board with far less authority than it expected to have.

That impression is probably accurate. In fact, it was almost certainly the point of the power-shifting directive in the first place. A Washington Post report described the move as a “bureaucratic coup.”

As DeSantis and his allied state legislators advanced their plan, it struck me as odd that Disney didn’t put up more of a public fight. It suddenly makes more sense: Maybe the corporate giant didn’t make a fuss because it was taking steps to circumvent the governor’s new board and its appointees.

As for what’s next, DeSantis’ board members are threatening litigation, and the matter seems likely to become a lengthy legal mess. Watch this space.

This post revises our related earlier coverage.