Poor Wile E. Coyote. The Warner Brothers cartoon character never learns from his futile, unending and self-punishing attempts to catch and devour the Roadrunner. The more he escalates his plans, the more pain he brings on himself. Disney CEO Bob Iger must be a fan of Wile E. Coyote, as he is doing everything possible to position Disney for a similar fate in its never-ending woke battle with the state of Florida.
In March 2022, after the Florida Legislature passed a law prohibiting gender identity instruction to very young (kindergarten through third grade) students, Disney announced the political equivalent of a declaration of war on Florida policymakers. Disney vowed to fight to reverse the law, have it upended in the courts, and fund activist groups challenging the law. Florida legislators responded to this declaration of political war by scheduling a vote to replace Disney’s hand-picked directors of the Reedy Creek Improvement District that oversees Walt Disney World and nearby properties. Disney had long been granted a sweetheart deal of self-governance and relative immunity from basic state laws and codes by being granted the privilege of hand-picking the District’s directors. However, Disney’s declaration of political war on Florida policymakers put an end to that sweetheart deal.
In Wile E. Coyote’s – er, I mean Disney’s – latest move, Disney attempted to nullify the effects of the legislative vote to replace the District’s directors. On February 8, the day before the legislative vote, the District’s board voted to forever transfer nearly all the District’s self-governance rights and privileges to the Walt Disney Corporation. Now, Disney argues, the law passed by Florida’s democratically elected officials to replace the District’s directors is toothless because any subsequent board no longer has anything other than nominal rights and responsibilities – all the District’s previous powers belong to Disney now.
The woke media crowed over Iger and Disney’s “brilliant” gambit outfoxing and outsmarting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. For example, Time magazine published an article titled, “Bob Iger Outsmarting Ron DeSantis Is a Master Class in Taking on Bullies.”
While woke media celebrate Iger allegedly getting the better of DeSantis, the governor and Florida’s elected officials have other ideas. To begin, members of Florida’s Republican-dominated Legislature have discussed new legislation to undo the nefarious transfer of the District’s oversight powers to Disney. Alternatively, legislation could reassert the state’s right to oversee Disney to the same extent it oversees other Florida-based businesses (rendering the District-transferred powers null and void). Also, Gov. DeSantis has floated additional ideas. Those include imposing tolls on the roads leading to and from Disney World, imposing new taxes on Disney hotels, imposing updated impact fees on Disney development, and developing state-owned land immediately adjacent to Disney in a manner that Disney would not like. None of these measures would have been considered had Disney not tried to pull a fast one on the Florida Legislature the day before the February 9 vote.
It appears the Roadrunner just pulled himself out of Iger’s – er, I mean Wile E. Coyote’s – trap and turned the tables on the self-described genius, as the Roadrunner always does. Maybe Disney and Iger will finally learn not to target the Roadrunner. More likely, Disney will continue targeting the Roadrunner until Disney brings complete destruction upon itself.
Pride and hubris are set to be Disney’s undoing. For half a century, Disney has been showered by state officials with special favors and privileges. Some of those favors are repayment for Disney’s lucrative bipartisan campaign contributions. Other favors were given in an effort to please an iconic giant corporation. Like many spoiled children, however, Disney now appears to believe it is entitled to do anything it wants without consequences. Disney is now learning the hard way that launching acerbic, high-profile political broadsides against state officials, and vowing to fund state officials’ political opponents is not a smart way to keep the long-running gravy train rolling.
Make no mistake, Walt Disney World needs the symbiotic relationship it had with Florida policymakers more than Florida policymakers need the relationship with Disney. Disney cannot just abandon its multi-billion-dollar Walt Disney World properties in the Sunshine State. Even if it could, where would Disney relocate? Disney profits greatly from an East Coast theme park presence. Nowhere else in the eastern United States is there such favorable year-round weather, airport access, and available land as in Florida. Florida elected officials, meanwhile, are finally learning that standing up for their constituents’ interests is more important – and more politically popular – than simply being Disney’s collective lapdog.
James Taylor ([email protected]) is president of The Heartland Institute.