Don't Pick Fights with Princesses.
Florida’s Governor has stepped up his fight over what he considers to be suitable content for the Sunshine state’s classrooms.
The Governor, a Republican presidential hopeful and acolyte of Trump, has successfully championed a law through the Florida Senate – formally called the Parental Rights in Education bill – but nicknamed by many “Don’t Say Gay’.
The bill passed through the Republican-controlled state senate by 23-16 votes and bars classroom lessons, literature or discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in early years’ education.
Never slow to show their support for such measures, local county’s -including the one where I live - have already drawn up lists of books which are to be withdrawn from the shelves of public libraries. It isn’t clear if a ceremonial book burning is being planned.
And in either a calculated attack on one of the state’s largest private employers or a demonstration of his exceedingly thin political skin, Governor DeSantis has now turned his ire on Florida’s most famous attraction – Disney World.
Disney has been outspoken in its opposition to ‘Don’t Say Gay’, even if it was a little slow in recognising how important an issue it was to the large LGBTQ+ cast members in its employ.
DeSantis has lashed out at anyone – teachers, community leaders, media groups, businesses, hospitality firms and lawyers – who have criticised the new rules, but his latest attack on Disney certainly elevates the fight.
Senate met this week to discuss Congressional district maps, but DeSantis told lawmakers he was “extending the call of what they are going to be considering this week… also considering termination of all special districts that were enacted in Florida prior to 1968, and that includes the Reedy Creek Improvement District’.
Reedy Creek Improvement District is the private government entity controlled by Disney and set up by the legislature in 1967 to allow government services such as zoning, fire services, utilities, roads and infrastructure to be provided by the entertainment giant.
The private government control that was awarded to Disney covers the 27,000 acres outside of Orlando and was critical to attracting the company to build its Disney World Theme Parks in the state.
Disney World is the number one visitor attraction in the US, bringing millions of international visitors to Florida each year and employing 60,000 people directly but supporting hundreds of thousands more in hotel, hospitality, restaurant and retail jobs in the state.
Republican lawmakers seem to have an appetite for a fight with Disney and the GOP Senate President and House Speaker have both backed the Governor.
Democrats have criticized the move, pointing out that Disney is a major economic mover in the state and tried to water the proposal down by inserting amendments which would call for economic impact to be determined before any vote on the issue.
Even those critical of the favourable terms Disney has received from Florida lawmakers are worried by DeSantis stance.
Richard Foglesong, the author of ‘Married to the Mouse’ told CBS News he had hoped ‘cooler heads would prevail’ but he believes he was wrong
‘I overestimated – or underestimated – Gov. DeSantis, “said the retired professor “I see this as a legitimate threat.”
Disney remained silent as the issue was debated but has suspended all political contributions in the state. With this being an important mid-term election year, that might capture the attention of Florida House members who are next to consider the Senate bill on its route to become law.
There are real financial consequences too, not just for Disney.
Effectively operating as its own county, the Reedy Creek Improvement District has had the power to issue municipal bonds, and with more than $1Billion of bonds in circulation, bondholders are worried about who will pay them back if the Improvement District is dissolved.
And that has local municipalities like Buena Vista and counties including Orange and Osceola worried.
They could suddenly find themselves responsible for repayment of the bonds and the huge costs of maintaining utilities and infrastructure in and around the Disney World complex.
Democrat State Senator Gary Farmer was critical of the rushed timing of the law and impact it could have. “We know where this came from,” he said. “It’s shoot first, ask questions later.”
So as the COVID restrictions are lifted and Florida’s entertainment and tourism industry are looking forward to the return of millions of international visitors, it seems the hot-headed Governor may be putting one of its key attractions at risk.
How ironic it would be if the absence of fairies, princesses and queens parading through Disney for the enjoyment of millions of primary and kindergarten age children was to be the downfall of the ridiculous and spiteful ‘Don’t Say Gay’ laws.
This article was first published in A Week in America