Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis answers a question during a news conference at the former Reed Creek Improvement District headquarters, Monday, April 17, 2023. Tower Lake is called the Central Florida Tourist Oversight District.
Joe Burbank | Orlando Sentinel | Getty Images
The board of supervisors appointed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to oversee operations at Walt Disney World voted Monday to file the lawsuit disney In response to the company’s recent federal lawsuit accusing the governor of a campaign of political retaliation.
The panel challenged the company’s long-standing autonomous status when it replaced the Disney-backed board of directors weeks ago, voting unanimously to authorize the lawsuit in state court.
“The district will seek justice in state court in central Florida, where both it and Disney reside and do business,” board chairman Martin Garcia said at a Monday morning meeting where the legal battle was the sole subject of business. “Yes, we will see justice in our own backyard.”
Disney sued DeSantis and the oversight team last Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee, Florida. The company is demanding the effective restoration of its control over the special tax district that has allowed it to govern its Orlando-area park operations autonomously since the 1960s.
The lawsuit escalates a fight that began more than a year ago, when the entertainment giant criticized a Florida bill that restricted talking about sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms.
The bill, dubbed “Don’t Talk Gay” by its opponents, was passed by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature and signed by DeSantis in March 2022.Within weeks, the governor and his allies began position Disney’s special governance area, then known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District.
Disney filed the lawsuit on the same day that members of the governor’s board voted to rescind a development deal the company struck before DeSantis made his choice. Taken over – basically limited the powers of the new board.
“Essentially, Disney is asking the federal court in Tallahassee to turn the clock back to 1967,” Garcia said of Disney’s lawsuit at Monday’s conference.
“We’re stuck with the 1967 city plan — does that make sense to anyone?” Garcia said, arguing that his board just wanted to modernize the area.
A Disney spokesman declined to comment on the board’s vote.
But Disney’s civil lawsuit says the state’s actions amount to “the most obvious case of retaliation this court is likely to see.” The company noted that the state’s issues with the district only began after the classroom bill debate.
“There was no room for disagreement about what happened here: Disney expressed its opinion on state legislation and was then punished by the state,” Disney’s lawsuit says.
Disney’s complaint comes as DeSantis is overseas on a political trip that appears to lay more groundwork for a possible bid for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
DeSantis, who is expected to announce his plans for the presidency after the Florida legislature wraps up in early May, is considered a top contender for former President Donald Trump.
But the long-running spat against Disney, one of Florida’s largest employers, has recently begun to draw criticism from some of DeSantis’ fellow Republicans.