Rebellion in Disney’s Florida Kingdom

Walt Disney Co.

need Florida more than Florida needs Walt Disney. It is the latest chapter in this tale of a CEO who followed his awake staff like a lemming from the cliff of cultural policy. Disney employees demanded that Mickey Mouse oppose Florida’s incorrectly described “not gay” bill. Now, state legislators are responding by laying down a few glue traps.


Florida’s Legislature voted this week to abolish the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which actually lets Disney World run its own private government. The district was created by the Legislative Assembly in 1967 and covers about 40 square kilometers and has two water parks and four amusement parks, including the Magic Kingdom. Disney essentially controls land use, environmental protection, fire services, utilities, more than 100 miles of roads and more.

Governor Ron DeSantis is expected to sign the bill. The Journal quotes a source who knows Disney’s finances as saying the district saves the company tens of thousands of millions of dollars a year. Without it, services like repairing holes could return to the county government.

Disney largely funds the Reedy Creek district, which had about $ 150 million in revenue last year. It also carries close to $ 1 billion in debt. The mayor of Orange County warned Thursday that if the district goes, then maintenance will “fall to county budgets,” which will place “an unnecessary burden on the rest of the taxpayers.” The headache seems big enough that it’s hard not to wonder about the bill’s effective date. It dissolves the Reedy Creek District on June 1, 2023 – time for Disney and Mr. DeSantis to make up.

Are Florida Republicans Involved in Unfair Political Retaliation? “As a matter of principle,” said Mr. DeSantis last month, “I do not support special privileges in law just because a business is powerful.” Live by corporate carve-out, die by corporate carve-out. As a matter of political realism, the Reedy Creek district is an advantage the state gave Disney. The mystery is why Disney thought it could push around state legislators without any setbacks.

One answer is that previous corporate policy signals came with few costs and media hosannas. Remember when Major League Baseball pulled its All-Star game out of Atlanta, as a punishment for Georgia’s new voting law. “Equitable access to the vote has continued the unwavering support of our game,” said Commissioner Rob Manfred. The voting law “does not match Delta’s values,” worried CEO Ed Bastian.

Have they read the bill? Or did they trust President Biden, who called it “Jim Crow 2.0”? Voting absent in Georgia is still easier than in New York or Delaware.

The political frenzy in Florida began with a similar dynamic. Early versions of the state’s controversial bill were broader, but here is the main line of the law that was passed: “Classroom education of school staff or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity must not take place in kindergarten through 3rd grade or in a way that is not age-appropriate. ” That language contradicts the claim that children with gay siblings or two mothers could not talk openly about their families.

First, CEO Bob Chapek told employees that Disney would not take a stand. “As we have seen time and time again, business statements do very little to change results or minds,” he wrote. “Instead, they are often armed by one side or the other to further divide and inflame.” But inspired by an earlier tweet from former CEO Bob Iger, Disney employees went into open revolt. Soon, Mr. Chapek was hurled at his subordinates, calling Florida’s bill a “challenge to fundamental human rights.”

Perhaps he thought this would be a free way to appease his staff, but Mr Chapek misjudged the political moment. Republican voters who have seen corporate side with the progressive agenda and silent on employees who disagree are tired. Mr. Chapek was right the first time: Disney’s political foray did not stop Florida law. But that drove many people crazy, including Disney customers and state legislators.


There is a caveat here to other companies, especially Big Tech and Wall Street, which are mostly based in liberal states but do business everywhere. If they try to impose their cultural values, they risk losing Republican allies on the political issues that matter most to their bottom lines, such as regulation, trade, taxation, antitrust and labor law. Opinion polls show rising GOP hostility toward big business, and that is likely to be reflected when Republicans take power.

If good tax policy can not pass Congress because Republican voters are furious at the cultural imperialism from the C-suite, it’s bad for the country. It’s bad for business too. The Disney lesson for CEOs is to stay out of these divisive cultural struggles. The lesson for political partisans in the workplace is that their bosses run the office, but they do not run the country.

Following guidance from the CDC, the Biden administration is appealing the decision to abolish the national mask mandate on public transport. But it seems the appeal is about more than just the pandemic. Photos: AFP / Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly

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