If you figured the war between Disney and Gov. Ron DeSantis was going to take a breather for the weekend, think again.
A day after the Bob Iger-run Mouse House gave the aspiring White House candidate a pro-business black eye and pulled the plug on long-time plans to move 2,000 California staffers to Florida and build a $1 billion new facility for them, DeSantis is trying to throw haymakers on the trail and in the courts – trying being the operative term.
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Daring Disney to “do whatever they want,” the ambitious Sunshine State governor said up in New Hampshire today, adding “I know people try to chirp and say this or that, but the chance of us backing down from that is zero.”
Straggling way way behind former mentor Donald Trump among registered Republicans as their preference for the 2024 GOP nomination, the much mocked DeSantis has uniquely managed to unite Disney, the ex-Celebrity Apprentice host and many in his own MAGA party against him in distain for the attacks on Florida’s largest private employer.
As a clearly deeply engaged and sometimes taunting Iger has said repeatedly, and as has been reiterated in filings commencing when Disney took DeSantis and his hand-picked replacement Disney World jurisdiction board to federal court on April 26, the governor has been conducting a “targeted campaign of government retaliation” against the company based on its eventual opposition last year under ex-CEO Bob Chapek to the discriminatory ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law.
“They want to have their own government in Disney,” DeSantis declared on Friday in a stop in the key 2024 primary state. “They’ve had their own government for 50 years. It’s massive corporate welfare. We’re not doing that.”
What it also seems that DeSantis is also not going to do is let the judge in the Disney instigated suit remain in the place.
“The Court’s unprompted suggestion, on two separate occasions, that the State punished Disney by eliminating its ‘special status’ gives an appearance of partiality that would lead a reasonable observer to question whether the Court is predisposed to ruling that the State retaliated against Disney,” exclaims a motion Friday from Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody to disqualify Chief Judge Mark E. Walker (read it here).
Don’t stop me if you’ve heard this before, kind of.
The federal District Court judge is indeed the second judge in this matter in as many weeks.
A few days after Disney first filed its action against DeSantis and others, U.S. Magistrate Judge Martin Fitzpatrick recused himself. Judge Fitzpatrick on April 29 revealed that he is related “in the third degree” to an individual employed by one of the parties in that suit, and stepped aside.
In this instance, Team DeSantis feel that Judge Walker won’t be opened minded enough about the governor trying to throw shade on Disney by constantly calling them a “woke” for disagreeing with him and his red meat policies.
“Many of the allegations feature quotes from elected officials who described Disney as being a ‘woke’ corporation or having a ‘woke’ ideology or viewpoint; indeed, the word ‘woke’ appears more than a dozen times in the amended complaint,” claims in the Florida AG of Disney’s pretty amended complaint of May 8 and its depiction of DeSantis expressed opinions on the company. “Days before Disney filed suit, this Court in a written order expressed …its views about political rhetoric directed at ‘woke’ ideology, calling ‘woke’ the ‘boogeyman of the day,’” adds the motion of why Judge Walker should exit the case.
All of which sounds a bit more wimp than woke for a recently reelected governor who is poised to formally announce his bid for the White House in the next week or so.
Disney did not reply to a request from Deadline for comment today on both DeSantis pseudo-campaign comments or the motion filing.
With presidential magic kingdoms in his eyes, and thinking he had a winning issue with the base, DeSantis earlier this year stripped the company of control of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the special district that has overseen its Florida theme parks, resorts and other property for the past 55 years, and appoint his own members.
After being out maneuvered by Disney in the 11th hour over what power his board would actually have, DeSantis then quickly encouraged state legislation to void development agreements that gave the company autonomy over its properties and surrounding land. Amidst the game the game of corporate and political chicken, soon after Disney slapped DeSantis’ and team with that suit claiming its First Amendment and other constitutional rights had been violated in retaliation for opposition to the state parental rights bill a.k.a. “Don’t Say Gay”
Or as Iger put it nearly poetically in Disney’s last earnings call on May 10: “Does the state want us to invest more, employ more and pay more taxes or not?”
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