Ron DeSantis vs Disney: the Florida feud explained

The feud between Disney and DeSantis began in February 2022 with a row over an LGBT bill (Getty Images)
The feud between Disney and DeSantis began in February 2022 with a row over an LGBT bill (Getty Images)

Ron DeSantis has succeeded in his efforts to remove the judge initially assigned to Disney's developmental authority case, causing a significant blow to the company’s lawsuit against him for control of the district managing development around the world-famous theme parks.

The legal battle between the Florida governor and Disney has been assigned to US District Judge Allen Windsor, an appointee of former president Donald Trump. He is replacing U.S. District Judge Mark E. Walker.

The news comes after Disney has revealed that it has scrapped its plans to invest nearly £806 million to build a new corporate campus in Florida amid the company’s feud with Governor DeSantis.

The plan would have seen 2,000 employees relocate to the Disney-owned complex at Lake Nona, Orlando.

According to the BBC who have seen an internal email sent to Disney employees, the decision was the result of “considerable changes” that have taken place since their plans were first shared two years ago and “new leadership” within Disney.

In response, Mr DeSantis’ office has said: “Disney announced the possibility of a Lake Nona campus nearly two years ago. Nothing ever came of the project, and the state was unsure whether it would come to fruition,

“Given the company’s financial straits, falling market cap and declining stock price, it is unsurprising that they would restructure their business operations and cancel unsuccessful ventures.”

But why are Disney and DeSantis feuding and what have the feud’s consequences been? Here is everything we know.

Why are Disney and DeSantis at war?

The feud began in February 2022 with a row over an LGBT bill that barred sexual orientation and gender identity conversations in schools until third grade across Florida.

After the bill that’s been widely referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, Disney revealed that it would be suspending its political donations to the state and support organisations that are against the law instead.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was angered by Disney’s move and said: “Disney and other woke corporations won’t get away with peddling their unchecked pressure campaigns any longer. If we want to keep the Democrat machine and their corporate lapdogs accountable, we have to stand together now.”

The fact that Disney is one of Florida’s biggest private employers meant that Disney’s stance put real pressure on the local government.

In return, in April 2022, the Florida government announced that it would be stripping Disney of its special tax status in the state secured by the Reedy Creek Improvement District, an organisation founded by Walt Disney himself back in 1967 that gave Disney the right to manage its own infrastructure, construction, utilities, and fire station.

DeSantis also shared that he wanted to rename the area to be called the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, which would be managed by a board of supervisors. And, he added, he was thinking of building a new state prison near the Disney World complex.

However, just before DeSantis came into power the previous Disney-allied board had signed off on a long-lasting development agreement that limited how much control the government could have over the company and its district. The 30-year development agreement meant Disney can build high-density projects, buildings of any height, and sell development rights without needing anyone’s approval.

The agreement’s royal clause that dates back to 1692 in Britain stated that the “declaration shall continue in effect until 21 years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III, King of England, living as of the date of this declaration”.

This has meant that the only things the government can try to control are the roads and basic infrastructure in Disney’s district.

Recently, in April 2023, Governor DeSantis passed a new bill that would require rides and monorails at Walt Disney World to be inspected by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. And, Disney filed a lawsuit against DeSantis and his oversight board on April 26, accusing them of using their political power to retaliate.