I’m back from my trip to Disney World with my grandchildren. My grandchildren had a ball. The crowds were very large and exceptionally well behaved.
You will recall that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and our Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick recently called for a boycott of Disney in retaliation for Disney having the audacity to publicly object to Florida’s recently passed “Don’t Say Gay” law. There were no boycotters to be seen anywhere, only happy families who were excited to be there. Based upon what I saw, the calls for a boycott of Disney failed completely.
Perhaps because DeSantis couldn’t hurt Disney with his words, he has now pushed through the Florida legislature a law which revokes Disney World’s designation as a special tax district. This designation has been in effect 55 years and was the essential element in attracting Disney to Florida in the first place.
Disney has 6 theme parks, 18 hotels, a 220 acre athletic complex and covers 25,000 acres in two counties. According to the New York Times, Disney paid more than $780 million in state and local taxes in 2021. In exchange for the creation of the special tax district, Disney agreed to locate in the Orlando area and Disney gained a lot of control over infrastructure development and municipal services. Disney is a huge private employer in Florida; attracts 50 million visitors a year; and, generates 5 billion in yearly local and state tax revenue through tourism. The special tax district has been a big winner for Florida and for Disney.
The impact of DeSantis’ personal vendetta will be that the taxes paid by county residents and local businesses will have to increase dramatically. In other words, Florida citizens will have to pay the price for DeSantis’ publicity stunt and bruised pride. Does DeSantis care? Not at all. In fact, he is quite proud of his naked abuse of power. DeSantis said: “If Disney wants to pick a fight, they chose the wrong guy. I will not allow a woke corporation based in California to run our state. Disney has gotten away with special deals from the state of Florida for way too long. Disney thought they ruled Florida. They even tried to attack me to advance their woke agenda.” He sounds more like a mafia boss or a dictator than a governor. Or, maybe he sounds just like Donald Trump? Everything is about him and is personal. Win at any cost, just so long as somebody else pays the tab. Or, does he sound like someone running for President who wants to be nationally noticed?
It is good to remember that just a few years ago Republicans were cheering the U.S. Supreme Court for its decision in the famous Citizens United case. In that case the Court ruled that corporations had the same rights as people to express political opinions and could make unlimited political contributions. Republicans assumed that they would be the beneficiaries of most of that money since they have always been the party of business and they weren’t concerned in the least about equating corporations with people. I suppose it never dawned upon them that corporations would actually exercise their right of political speech to criticize Republican law makers for passing laws they believe hurt their employees and their businesses.
Isn’t it ironic that Florida Republicans were all in favor of corporate free speech until that speech is used against them? The same could be said about Republicans in Texas. They have retaliated against corporations who have publicly expressed disagreement over abortion policy, LGBTQ issues, education issues and fossil fuels policy.
Over 150 other major corporations have taken a stance opposing the “Don’t Say Gay” law. What sort of intimidation and retaliation will DeSantis and Patrick and Governor Abbott pursue next? Is any dissenting corporation safe from retribution? Will corporations become too fearful to exercise their new freedom of political speech? Will corporations continue to pay big money to play the political game if politicians insist upon passing laws that they believe hurt their businesses and their employees? Corporations don’t want to pay money to elect politicians only to be told to keep quiet and take a seat at the back of the bus. On the other hand, DeSantis’ blatant retaliation against a company as big as Disney may motivate some corporations to pay protection money.
One thing is for sure. Disney has been around for a lot longer than DeSantis has been alive and will be around a long time after he’s dead and forgotten. It’s one of those tricky things about corporations: They can live forever, they have deep pockets, they have long memories; and, in the end, they can usually get what they pay for.
How did we get to this sorry state of affairs? The answer, I believe, is the combination of partisan gerrymandering and low voter turnout in primaries. If someone wants to win a primary election in a gerrymandered district, the candidate has to win only a relatively tiny number of votes from the party faithful who are, as a general rule, highly motivated by a very narrow range of simplistic partisan issues. This encourages candidates to become more and more extreme because they are terrified of being beaten by a candidate who is even more extreme than themselves. It is as if we went to a fancy ice cream store but are forbidden from selecting anything other than vanilla or chocolate. It should not be surprising that we get politicians with extreme positions and, sadly, the politicians and too many of us seem to want it to stay that way.