I try to steer clear of politics and the culture wars here at About Theme Parks. There are plenty of places for folks to get their fill of our elected officials, the chaos they often create, and the pundits who chatter about them as well as other hot-button topics ad nauseam. I prefer to keep the focus on the parks and attractions that we love. As with the parks themselves, I like to think of this as a haven from the partisan bickering and divisiveness that seems to be getting worse by the day. Everybody can agree on coasters, right? (Of course not! Some seem to thrive on antagonizing others even when it comes to riding the rails [he writes with an audible sigh].)
But it’s getting impossible to ignore what is happening in Florida. The smackdown between The Walt Disney Company and Governor Ron DeSantis just kicked up a considerable notch when The Mouse filed a First Amendment lawsuit last Wednesday. It claims that DeSantis and his administration are waging a “campaign of government retaliation” against Disney for expressing its views. Yesterday, a DeSantis-backed board countersued the company.
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Unless you’ve been living in a cave at Tom Sawyer Island (and if you are, I hope a certain fire-breathing dragon didn’t disrupt your domicile last week), you’ve undoubtedly heard all about the brouhaha. If you need to catch up on the details, there are reports available virtually everywhere.
Essentially, Disney, under then-CEO Bob Chapek, spoke out against Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” legislation. DeSantis, the self-styled, anti-woke crusader-in-chief, then revoked the Disney-controlled Reedy Creek Improvement District that oversees Disney World and replaced it with his own hand-picked Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. Before it was dissolved however, the RCID slipped DeSantis a Mickey. It authorized an agreement that continues to give Disney near-total control over the development of its theme park resort and renders the CFTOD largely irrelevant. The CFTOD voted to nullify that agreement, Disney brought its lawsuit, and the CFTOD responded with its own suit.
No matter where anyone may stand regarding DeSantis and his conservative leanings, I think everyone can agree that his actions against Disney as well as his threats (building a prison near the resort? yeesh!) are petty and vindictive. While some may applaud his Mouse-bashing efforts, DeSantis surely doesn’t seem to be doing himself any favors in his expected bid to be a Republican contender for the 2024 presidential race. Current Disney CEO Bob Iger’s stinging remarks that the Governor is “anti-business and anti-Florida” can’t be sitting well among the constituents in his own state either. It would appear that DeSantis has painted himself into a corner in his feud with the resort and looks, well, a bit goofy.
But let’s stand back for a moment and consider the RCID. The special tax district, which dates back to the 1960s and was likely the result of negotiations in which Walt Disney himself played at least some role, is an incredibly sweet deal. The company has basically had its own fiefdom that spans 43 square miles and two counties for decades. It may be reasonable to question Disney’s unfettered authority over its vast resort.
The spiteful manner in which DeSantis disbanded the RCID, however, was not the way to address the issue. Regardless, one thing has nothing to do with the other. It can both be true that the Governor’s vengeful actions are wrong and that it may be unfair for Disney to benefit from an arrangement such as the RCID.
"Disney finds itself in this regrettable position because it expressed a viewpoint the Governor and his allies did not like. Disney wishes that things could have been resolved a different way,” said the company in its lawsuit filing. “In America, the government cannot punish you for speaking your mind.”
I’m no legal expert, but that statement rings true to me. It’s disconcerting, but also fascinating to see the dust-up unfold. Who will blink first? Where is it all heading? Beats me. Maybe the two sides should confront one another on the Jerry Springer Show and duke it out. Oh wait.
I hesitate to do this for what may be a contentious topic, but what are your thoughts about the situation? ATPers, I have faith in our community. Let’s keep the discussion focused on the matter at hand and not peripheral issues, okay? Please be civil and respectful in your responses.
It's interesting watching the parallels between DeSantis' governing style and NC's Pat McCrory. Like DeSantis (albeit to a much lesser extent), McCrory decided to die on the hill of a cultural non-issue, in his case the "bathroom" bill that would supposedly force people to only use bathrooms of their birth gender. It was unenforceable and petty, and yet he went all-in on it in spite of NC losing millions of dollars in revenue when sports tournaments and businesses started boycotting the state.
McCrory wound up paying the political cost of this economic recklessness, and got booted out the next election. DeSantis may be headed down the same path by inexplicably picking a fight with one of his state's largest employers and arguably THE biggest tourist draw. Perhaps he feels emboldened with a Presidential run on the way and another 4 years left in office even if he doesn't attain the White House, but I'm confident that this will never work out in his favor. There's simply no upside to anyone but his base, who are in the clear minority.
I wish we could all just agree to let everyone live their own experience, without trying to impose our moral beliefs on others. We have far more in common than not, and it's a shame that disenfranchised groups are being used as political tools when there are actual real issues that need to be addressed. Let's just try to be good people to one another, we're all fighting our own battles.
To bring it back around to coasters, I've met more diverse groups of people in this hobby than in any other that I've participated in. To me, it's been one of the biggest positives of joining coaster clubs and participating in events.
I want to raise a tension that comes to mind for me often when we talk about "avoiding politics" in these theme park-oriented, fun, lighthearted bubbles we try to create. First of all, I want to say that I grow really, really worn out from reading the news all the time myself. I vote, I donate, I volunteer at times, and other than that, I often don't know what else to do with the energy and feelings I have surrounding these topics. I am so grateful to the individuals who throw themselves into governing in order to make changes and represent their communities. That said, I don't think it's possible for theme park world to insulate itself from the effects of things like "Don't Say Gay" or other laws that are passed. While I might want to avoid the partisan bickering and posturing that happens around the passage of these laws, we are not immune to their effects, especially those in the groups that are directly discriminated against and actively harmed by these laws. I am grateful for spaces where I can decompress a bit, like Arthur's work on this Substack (thanks, Arthur!), but I am cognizant of the fact that we are never completely walled off from the decisions that our elected officials are making at local and national levels.