Disney World versus DeSantis: the Battle for Magic Kingdom

Ron DeSantis’s fight over power with Disney World is going to harm the his chances at being elected into office in the future



Florida governor Ron DeSantis has been in a feud with Disney World over the Reedy Creek Improvement District.

Disney World. The name carries a sort of innocent identity among the young and young-at-heart alike. Yet, recently, the theme park has been dragged into a political debate, sparring with the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, over who truly holds the keys to the Magic Kingdom.

This problem’s history actually starts back in the mid-1960s, when Disney World was in the planning stages at the Walt Disney Company. The company’s namesake wanted to create an entire city in the heart of Florida, with an airport, theme park, and work center nearby. In order to operate and control said city, however, Mr. Disney needed the power to own and operate his own utilities, roads, and local legislature, all of which could only be granted by the Florida government. Disney being the influential (and profitable) company it was, however, the Florida government willingly granted Disney their own “improvement district,” called the Reedy Creek Improvement District, granting the private corporation the powers of a small, local government. 

Fast forward to just over a year ago. In early March, word spread that Disney had donated campaign money to the backers of the controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which was designed to prohibit discussion of sexual orientation and gender from kindergarten to the third grade. Protests from Disney employees erupted almost overnight, with employees in Disney’s Burbank studios staging a walk-out to protest their employer’s support of the bill.

In mid-March, then-CEO Bob Chapek finally stepped up and apologized for Disney’s campaign funds. In the same statement, he also condemned the bill and announced that the company would bolster their support for the LGTBQ+ community.

In spite of this, however, the bill ended up becoming law, anyway. Disney, now committed to this new goal, announced that the company would push for its repeal, which angered the Florida governor. DeSantis announced shortly afterward that he would push back to take over Reedy Creek, ripping the power entirely away from Disney.

After a few months, however, the situation cooled slightly, and DeSantis walked back his initial intent. Instead, he would simply take over the Reedy Creek board, which was in charge of overseeing general operations and improvements to the district. Both sides sat down to discuss and negotiate this bill, and it was signed into law in late February 2023. 

Only, the situation was not that simple. In the bill, the new board’s powers were limited to general infrastructure maintenance – nothing more, nothing less. Not only that, but this bill was designed to last in perpetuity – the deal would not expire until Disney left Florida (extremely unlikely) or until twenty-one years after the last descendant of King Charles III dies (which is obviously not going to happen for a long while). 

DeSantis only became ever more angry. In late March 2023, he threatened to increase hotel taxes and install toll roads on the property, as an answer to Disney’s legal maneuvers in the deal. The latest installment in this saga tells of now-CEO Bob Iger saying that DeSantis was punishing the corporation for free speech, and that the governor’s actions are “not only anti-business, but anti-Florida.”

Disney is a company that is not to be messed with. The company is worth approximately $184 billion and has been around for 100 years. Disney is arguably one of the biggest companies in the entertainment industry. Disney’s iconic theme park in Florida, Disneyworld, is a pretty big part of Florida. The property is about 43 square miles, that’s about the size of San Francisco, which makes it the largest single landowner in Florida. And with the popularity of Disney World, Disney brings about 2.5% of Florida’s gross domestic product.

But despite how important Disney is in Florida, DeSantis decided that he was going to show Disney who has more power. He started off by taking away Disney World’s self-governing authority which lets the park generate its own electricity, have its own fire and medical services, and make the decisions with permits and construction on the property. Disney is a huge property, they need their own electricity, otherwise, they would end up spending a lot more money on electric bills. And the electric bill of four theme parks, two water parks, and more than 25 hotels is not cheap. But, in the end it was not taken away because DeSantis realized that if the park wasn’t self-governing, the cost of some of the fire protection and construction would be put to taxpayers. 

But, DeSantis did strip the park’s ability to choose who is on their tax districts five-person board. That ability now belongs to DeSantis, which means he has quite some control over the park. The board, called the Central Florida Tourism District’s board, wears the pants when it comes to land development and zoning. Disney can however still work on their construction projects without the input of the board. 

Disney did not want the board or anything that the board did to use the Disney brand name or use any of its other characters without permission. If the board failed to follow that request, Disney would sue. 

Later on, it feels like DeSantis just doesn’t ever want this fight to end. He has recently threatened to add tolls and taxes near the property. 

DeSantis may not realize it now, but everything he is doing to Disney, is giving the company more and more of a reason to hate him, which in the future is most likely going to affect him dearly. Apparently, Ron DeSantis is planning on running for president in 2024, but Disney is going to remember what he did and my guess is that the company is going to do everything that they can to make sure he doesn’t get voted into office. If DeSantis became president, who knows what he could do? He obviously is not a big supporter of the LGBTQ community, and he is pretty anti-science when it comes to things like COVID-19.

But what can Disney do to prevent DeSantis from winning any future elections? Disney is a multi-billion dollar company, the only thing Disney can’t do is murder DeSantis (But that isn’t very Mickey friendly is it?). I think the first thing Disney will do is give everyone who is running against DeSantis a lot of money to spend on their campaign. And because Disney has so many followers, Disney fans and supporters are most likely not going to vote for DeSantis. So with all of the variables combined, DeSantis might not even be a competitor. 

This war over control of Disney World just can’t end too well for Ron DeSantis. Just Because Disney expressed their disapproval of  the ‘Don’t say gay bill’, doesn’t mean that DeSantis has to start stripping Disney of control over their park just to show Disney that he has more power over their property. And with how much money Disney has, if Ron DeSantis decides to run for office in the future, Disney will do everything they can to help the other candidates so DeSantis doesn’t win. DeSantis needs to step back for a minute and ask himself if this spiteful fight for power is going to hurt him in the long run.