The Ongoing Feud Between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Walt Disney World Over Self-Governing Status and Ride Inspections

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been engaged in an ongoing feud with Walt Disney World, one of the state’s largest employers.[0] DeSantis has been seeking to revoke Disney’s self-governing status, which previously allowed the company to act with the same authority and responsibility as a county government.[1] Although DeSantis was unable to completely dissolve the district, he did acquire unprecedented control over Disney World’s dedicated government body, the Reedy Creek Improvement District.[2] He subsequently threatened new legislation that would give the Florida government additional oversight over Disney’s rides and fired Reedy Creek’s existing controlling board, replacing them with a five-member body that he picked himself.[2] DeSantis’s feud with Disney began when the company took a stand against the controversial “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, which prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through the third grade.[3] State standards require that instruction beyond third grade must be considered suitable for the age or development level of the students.[3]

On the brink of a distinctive legislative meeting intended to grant control of the Reedy Creek Improvement District to DeSantis in February, the board backed by Disney outsmarted the governor.[4] Last-minute agreements were made between it and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, U.S., Inc, which included restrictive covenants. These agreements essentially require Disney’s approval of any changes made by a board controlled by the governor for many years to come.[4] The decision caused concerns that residents of the two counties adjacent to Reedy Creek in Florida may face a substantial tax liability if Disney’s autonomy is revoked by the state.[5] The state legislature abandoned the previous plan in a February session and instead suggested renaming the district and granting DeSantis the authority to appoint its five board members.[5] DeSantis, who signed the bill into law in March, criticized Disney as a “woke” corporation and pushed the GOP-controlled Legislature to strip the company of much of its authority over the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which allowed Disney to operate its own local government.[6]

DeSantis’s feud with Disney has drawn criticism from both sides of the political spectrum, with some conservatives arguing that the governor is wrongfully interfering in business matters and acting against the Republican party platform. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said that DeSantis’s actions towards Disney were not those of a conservative.[7] Former President Donald Trump has also weighed in, writing on his media site Truth Social that DeSantis is being “absolutely destroyed by Disney.”[8] If Trump’s attacks on DeSantis and his Disney imbroglio end up sticking, there’s no telling how they could affect the 2024 election season.[2]

DeSantis has also suggested that the state could build a new prison near Disney World, and that the board overseeing the Reedy Creek Improvement District could move to develop land within the district that Disney doesn’t own, throwing out ideas of what could possibly be developed there including a state park, another amusement park, or a state prison.[9] DeSantis has also said that lawmakers will move legislation that would nullify Disney’s agreements and that the state will look to take over inspections of Disney’s property, including its rides.[10]

Universal Orlando and SeaWorld, among other major theme parks in Florida with over 1,000 employees, are now accountable for conducting their own ride inspections and are no longer subject to state inspections.[11] DeSantis suggested that any changes the state makes would likely only impact Disney directly, by only targeting theme parks located within special districts, meaning Walt Disney World would have its ride safety operations under state control while its major competitors would not.[11] The government also intends to change rules so Walt Disney World’s monorail and theme park rides will be subject to state inspections.[11] Florida lawmakers plan to give the Department of Agriculture the power to inspect Disney’s monorail and rides, but not expand that power to other big parks like SeaWorld and Universal.[12]

Disney has not immediately responded to requests for comment on the ongoing feud with DeSantis.[5]

0. “Gaming the government is not going well” CNN, 18 Apr. 2023,

1. “Disney’s ‘back room deal’ to stop DeSantis ripped by legal expert: ‘Worthy of Scrooge McDuck’” Fox News, 19 Apr. 2023,

2. “What’s Going On With the DeSantis-Disney Debacle?” Vogue, 19 Apr. 2023,

3. “Amendment filed to regain control over Disney deals” News 13 Orlando, 19 Apr. 2023,

4. “Senate proposal would retroactively invalidate Disney deal with taxing district” Miami Herald, 18 Apr. 2023,

5. “DeSantis and allies ramp up Disney fight as more Republicans criticize his tactics” CNBC, 19 Apr. 2023,

6. “DeSantis-backed board moves closer to nixing Disney pact” POLITICO, 19 Apr. 2023,

7. “Christie, Trump hit DeSantis after prison comment in Disney dispute” USA TODAY, 18 Apr. 2023,

8. “DeSantis political rivals seize on Disney feud” Tampa Bay Times, 20 Apr. 2023,

9. “Guilford County senator files bill to attract The Walt Disney Company to North Carolina” WXII12 Winston-Salem, 20 Apr. 2023,

10. “DeSantis allies on Disney oversight board threaten company with taxes, rate hikes and affordable housing” CNN, 19 Apr. 2023,

11. “Here’s How DeSantis And His Board Could Change Disney World” Forbes, 18 Apr. 2023,

12. “New board for Disney’s special district attempts to regain power with Wednesday vote” WFTV Orlando, 19 Apr. 2023,

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