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.”
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.