Mickey Mouse
Mickey Mouse, photographed by Gary Bembridge

Ora­tors at Repub­li­can con­fabs like to rail against “big gov­ern­ment” and “over reg­u­la­tion,” declar­ing them­selves pro-busi­ness and anti-red tape. The heavy hand of gov­ern­ment gets depict­ed as an imped­i­ment to America’s mar­ket economy.

Well, that was before Gov­er­nor Ron DeSan­tis of Flori­da came along.

DeSan­tis had appeared, until recent­ly, to be a rem­e­dy to the wild rhetoric of Don­ald Trump, a Trump-with­out-Trump ultra MAGA dar­ling and hot prospect for the 2024 Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion. He is report­ed­ly ready to announce his can­di­da­cy as soon as the Flori­da Leg­is­la­ture adjourns its 2023 ses­sion. A pro-DeSan­tis super-PAC is already duel­ing in TV ads with a Trump super-PAC.

But DeSan­tis is falling in the polls, trail­ing Trump by thir­teen points in the lat­est Wall Street Jour­nal sur­vey and los­ing ground in endorsements.

DeSan­tis held a meet-and-greet with Repub­li­can mem­bers of Con­gress recent­ly in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. The Trump cam­paign used the occa­sion to roll out endorse­ments from House mem­bers, notably from Florida.

How come? DeSan­tis is learn­ing that Mick­ey Mouse is Mighty Mouse. He has tak­en on Dis­ney World, a mas­sive pres­ence in the Orlan­do area, and learned a basic tru­ism: He who sows the wind shall reap the whirlwind.

Dis­ney is now suing the Sun­shine State, charg­ing DeSan­tis with wag­ing “a relent­less cam­paign to weaponize gov­ern­ment pow­er against Dis­ney in retal­i­a­tion for express­ing a polit­i­cal view­point unpop­u­lar with cer­tain state officials.”

Mean­ing DeSantis.

DeSan­tis has set out to make the Sun­shine State a right wing mod­el for the nation. At his behest, the ger­ry­man­dered Flori­da Leg­is­la­ture has just vot­ed to ban abor­tion after six weeks. The gov­er­nor has set out to take over and trans­form a small state-run uni­ver­si­ty. But as cen­ter­piece, DeSan­tis cham­pi­oned the “Parental Rights in Edu­ca­tion Act,” bet­ter known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. It ban­ish­es dis­cus­sion of sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion and gen­der iden­ti­ty from Florida’s pub­lic schools.

Disney’s then-CEO Bob Chapek dis­sent­ed, say­ing he would work to revoke the leg­is­la­tion. DeSan­tis retal­i­at­ed. with leg­is­la­tion to strip Dis­ney of its spe­cial tax sta­tus and put Dis­ney World under the aegis of DeSan­tis appointees.

The Reedy Creek Improve­ment Dis­trict is a moniker. It was an induce­ment that Flori­da offered to Dis­ney, giv­ing the com­pa­ny con­trol over its domain. With its own gov­ern­ing board, the com­pa­ny has long run a sort of city-with­in-a-city over its domain, over­see­ing roads and pro­vid­ing such ser­vices as fire protection.

The com­pa­ny respond­ed with an inge­nious way to hold onto its pow­er. The out­go­ing Dis­ney board evoked a “roy­al lives” clause allow­ing Dis­ney to hold onto devel­op­ment rights over a forty-square mile area, as well as any alter­na­tions to its prop­er­ty. The clause, says Dis­ney in remark­able lan­guage, is “valid in per­pe­tu­ity or until death of the last sur­vivor of the descen­dants of King Charles III.”

Big dom­i­neer­ing gov­ern­ment, DeSan­tis style, does not tol­er­ate dis­sent even from a big cor­po­ra­tion. The Gov­er­nor has talked about locat­ing a “state prison” next to Dis­ney World. The new­ly DeSan­tis-appoint­ed Cen­tral Flori­da Tourism Over­sight Dis­trict Board has declared Disney’s devel­op­ment plan “void and unenforceable.”

The gov­er­nor has accused the com­pa­ny of a “woke” men­tal­i­ty – the polit­i­cal right has its own jar­gon for such things – and “indoc­tri­nat­ing young chil­dren” in a ver­boten lifestyle. He has talked about locat­ing a “state prison” next to Dis­ney World.

The sev­en­ty-sev­en-page Dis­ney suit was dropped while DeSan­tis was on a busi­ness-pro­mot­ing trip to Europe and the Mid­dle East, capped by a ses­sion with Israel’s Prime Min­is­ter Netanyahu. Small busi­ness­es lack resources to chal­lenge the state, says the com­pa­ny, “but Dis­ney knows that it is for­tu­nate to have the resources to take a stand against the State’s retaliation… ”

Of DeSan­tis’ actions, the Dis­ney brief declares: “This gov­ern­ment action was patent­ly retal­ia­to­ry, patent­ly anti-busi­ness and patent­ly uncon­sti­tu­tion­al. But the Gov­er­nor and his allies have made clear they do not care and will not stop.”

“Patent­ly anti-busi­ness”, a Repub­li­can gov­er­nor with pres­i­den­tial ambi­tions. “Do not care and will not stop” – words that Repub­li­can politi­cians have so often applied to Demo­c­ra­t­ic office­hold­ers.” “Weaponiz­ing gov­ern­ment pow­er” — words often spo­ken by Repub­li­can lawmakers.

DeSan­tis is no main-street con­ser­v­a­tive. He is a believ­er in and prac­ti­tion­er of big gov­ern­ment and author­i­tar­i­an rule. He is seek­ing to impose his will and retal­i­ate against any and all who stand in his way, even a major employ­er in his state.

What would Walt Dis­ney, a stead­fast Hol­ly­wood con­ser­v­a­tive and foe of union­iz­ing, have thought of DeSan­tis’ actions?

The pub­lic is get­ting a whiff of this and does not like it.

DeSan­tis is mount­ing up a pres­i­den­tial cam­paign just as his sup­port is falling. Author­i­tar­i­an rule is the antithe­sis of what Amer­i­ca is about.

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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