Article published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on April 24, 2023.
Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis continues his battle against the Walt Disney Co. that opposed Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act signed into law on Mar. 28, 2022. The legislation, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law, limits LGBTQ+ education in schools and is viewed by many as anti-gay.
At first, Disney did not take a position on the Parental Rights in Education Act. After many of its employees and stockholders complained about their lack of a stance, Disney announced its opposition to the law and that it would support efforts to have the law overturned in the courts. Because the company wanted to avoid the wrath of its employees, it instead faces the wrath of the governor and the Florida Legislature.
In retaliation against Disney, on Apr. 21, 2022, DeSantis signed the bill that dissolved the Reedy Creek Improvement District. This legislation was passed by the Florida Legislature in 1967, allowing Disney to self-govern the 39-square-mile area where Disney World is located, independent of local municipal government.
It is clear that DeSantis wanted to enact retribution when he signed the legislation to retaliate against Disney. “You’re a corporation based in Burbank, California, and you’re gonna marshal your economic might to attack the parents of my state,” DeSantis said prior to signing the bill. “We view that as a provocation, and we’re going to fight back against that.”
“Attacking the parents of my state?” DeSantis invented a bogus enemy for political purposes which he could then attack. A common political strategy.
The Reedy Creek Improvement District was beneficial to Disney World by simplifying the process of building its theme park and providing supporting services. It was also beneficial to local municipalities because it relieved them of the responsibilities and costs of providing services to such a large enterprise. After the Improvement District was dissolved, Reedy Creek bond debt was put on negative watch by Fitch Ratings.
In the year since I first wrote an article on this battle between DeSantis and Disney in April, 2022, there have been ongoing skirmishes between the Reedy Creek board appointed by Disney and the new board appointed by DeSantis to the newly named Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. It is reported that the new board will investigate Disney and the former board members for criminal acts. DeSantis’ retribution knows no bounds.
In the 2006 case of Hartman v. Moore, the Supreme Court held that “The First Amendment prohibits government officials from subjecting an individual to retaliatory actions, including criminal prosecutions, for speaking out.”
Adam Winkler at the UCLA School of Law stated, “It is a violation of the First Amendment for the government to punish a corporation because of the company’s expressed viewpoints on political issues. I think that we will see legal challenges to this.”
Effective leaders use logic, not retribution, when making decisions. They also don’t shoot from the hip, but instead identify unintended consequences. We will see how swing voters react to DeSantis’ action.
The GOP used to be the party of limited government interference in the affairs of individuals and companies. No longer. DeSantis’ primary focus is on cultural issues—marginalizing LGBTQ+ individuals, book banning and restricting sex education in public schools. DeSantis targeted the progressive New College of Florida, and is replacing board members with individuals who hold strong conservative views. So much for the GOP’s “limited government interference” ideology.
New Hampshire Republican Governor Chris Sununu, speaking at a recent National Rifle Association conference, said, “Republicans would have to win support among a wide swath of voters in order to win in 2024—especially among the critical bloc of independent [swing] voters who often decide the outcomes of races up and down the ballot.”
I believe the current cultural policy positions of the GOP will not cut it with independent voters.
DeSantis, a possible Republican nominee for the presidency in 2024, is playing to the GOP’s national base, which ranks conservative cultural values higher than limited government. Is DeSantis ignoring swing voters? Time will tell.
Stan Silverman is founder of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership. He can be reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com.