by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is daring Disney to escalate as the politically confident Republican brawls with his state’s most recognizable corporate citizen over a new law regulating discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in public schools.
After Disney pledged support to repeal the Parental Rights in Education law, DeSantis expressed interest in undoing a unique statute that grants the entertainment giant governing authority over its central Florida theme parks. That the governor signed H.B. 1557, denounced by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, was not surprising. But DeSantis’s enthusiasm for conflict, with a company that employs nearly 60,000 Floridians and draws 20 million-plus visitors to the state annually, is unusual.
Governors tend to prefer de-escalation with corporations whose activities are vital to their states’ economies, even if compromising or backing down are nonstarters. DeSantis has taken the opposite approach with Disney — in an election year, no less. The episode reveals the governor’s comfort with cultural combat, keen eye for issues driving the Republican base, and confidence in his political standing as he vies for a second term and mulls a 2024 presidential bid.
“This plays right into DeSantis’s narrative,” said a Republican insider in Florida who is not aligned with the governor and requested anonymity to speak candidly. “Once he gets a target like this, he doesn’t let up.”
DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw said cultivating a “narrative” had nothing to do with the governor’s decision to sign H.B. 1557, a bill that was not part of DeSantis’s legislative agenda but rather bubbled up from the Republican-controlled Legislature. And if any party in the debate over the law is responsible for waging a culture war, it’s the Burbank, California-based Walt Disney Company — not DeSantis, Pushaw added.