The staple boilerplate speech given for years at Republican gatherings combines denunciations of “big government” with “over regulation” and promises to cut the shackles restraining business in America. The heavy hand of government must be removed in the name of freedom.
Well, that was before Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis came along. He is Big Government and rules with a heavy hand.
DeSantis has appeared, until recently, to be the GOP’s remedy to the wild rhetoric of ex-President Donald Trump, a Trump-without-Trump conservative and hot prospect for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. He is reportedly ready to announce his candidacy as soon as the Florida Legislature adjourns its 2023 session. A pro-DeSantis super PAC is already dueling in TV ads with a pro-Trump super PAC.
Lately, however, DeSantis has been falling in the polls, trailing Trump by 13 points in the latest Wall Street Journal survey. He is also losing ground on endorsements. DeSantis recently held a meet-and-greet with GOP members of Congress in Washington, D.C. The Trump campaign used the occasion to roll out endorsements from House members, notably the Florida delegation.
How come? DeSantis is learning that Mickey Mouse is Mighty Mouse. He has sought to punish Disney World, a massive presence in the Orlando area, and learned a basic truism: He who sows the wind shall reap the whirlwind.
Disney is now suing the state of Florida in federal court, charging DeSantis with waging “a relentless campaign to weaponize government power against Disney in retaliation for expressing a political viewpoint unpopular with certain state officials.” Read DeSantis.
The political cost could be enormous. The case threatens to go on and on, with each side suing the other. The fight is gratuitous. DeSantis has chosen to swagger. It shows poor judgment and calls into question DeSantis’ fitness to be president.
DeSantis has set out, with a heavy hand, to make Florida a conservative model for the nation. At his behest, the gerrymandered Florida Legislature has voted to ban abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy. The Governor has decided to take over and transform a small state-run university. The centerpiece of his agenda has been the Parental Rights in Education Act, nicknamed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
That legislation bans discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity from the classrooms of Florida’s public schools. Disney’s then-CEO Bob Chapek dissented, saying he would work to repeal the legislation. DeSantis retaliated with legislation to strip Disney of the special tax status it has enjoyed for 55 years, and put Disney World under the aegis of DeSantis appointees.
The Reedy Creek Improvement District was a creation meant to induce Disney to settle in Orlando. It gave the company control over its domain. With its own governing board, the company has overseen development as well as taking responsibility for roads and such services as fire protection.
The company responded to DeSantis’ takeover bid with an ingenious way to hold onto its power. The outgoing Disney board evoked a “royal lives” clause allowing Disney to hold onto development rights over a 40-square mile area, as well as alternations to its property. The clause, says Disney in remarkable language, is “valid in perpetuity or until death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III.”
Big domineering government, as designed by DeSantis, does not tolerate dissent even from a big corporation. The Governor has talked about locating a state prison next to Disney World. The newly DeSantis-appointed Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board has declared Disney’s development plan “void and unenforceable.” The Governor has accused Disney of having a “woke” mentality and “indoctrinating young children” in verboten lifestyles.
Disney dropped a 77-page lawsuit while DeSantis was on a business-promoting trip to Europe and the Middle East, capped by a session with Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu. Small businesses do not have resources to challenge the Governor, says the company, “but Disney knows that it is fortunate to have the resources to take a stand against the State’s retaliation.“
Of DeSantis’ actions, the Disney brief declares, “The government action was patently retaliatory, patently anti-business, and patently unconstitutional. But the Governor and his allies have made clear they do not care and will not stop.”
“Patently anti-business” describing a Republican governor with presidential ambitions is not a desired platform for the primaries. “Do not care and will not stop” are words that Republican politicians have long attached to Democratic officeholders. “Weaponizing government power” is an accusation that GOP members of Congress as leveling at the Biden Administration.
DeSantis has been called out as a believer in and practitioner of big government and authoritarian rule. He is seeking to impose his will and retaliate against any and all who stand in his way, even a major employer in his state. What would Walt Disney, an old school conservative, have said of this?
The public is getting a whiff of this, and apparently doesn’t like it. DeSantis is, however, doubling down. The DeSantis-board has voted to sue Disney in state court. The board wants the court to give it oversight of design and construction in the district, in which Disney World occupies 25,000 acres. “We will seek justice in our own back yard,” in the words of Martin Garcia, chair of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.
With this enduring mess, can DeSantis claim he’s the guy to enact the conservative agenda without slipups and controversy? No way. He is coming across as a heavy.