Days after Disney sued Florida’s governor in federal court for what it described as retaliation for opposing the state’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill, members of Disney World’s governing board — made up of Governor Ron DeSantis appointees — authorised a lawsuit on Monday against the entertainment giant.
Members of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District voted unanimously to sue Disney in state court in the Orlando area, as well as defend itself in federal court in Tallahassee where the entertainment company filed its lawsuit last Wednesday.
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The Disney lawsuit against the governor, the board and its five members asks a judge to void the governor’s takeover of the theme park district previously controlled by Disney for 55 years.
“We will seek justice in our own back yard,” said Martin Garcia, chair of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.
The Associated Press news agency sent an email on Monday morning to Disney officials seeking comment.
Disney filed its lawsuit last week after the oversight board appointed by DeSantis voted to void a deal that gave the company authority over design and construction decisions in its sprawling properties near Orlando.
Disney’s lawsuit was the latest salvo in a more than year-old feud between Disney and DeSantis that has engulfed the governor in criticism as he prepares to launch an expected presidential bid in the coming months.
DeSantis, who has framed himself as a Republican firebrand able to deftly implement his conservative agenda without drama, has dived headlong into the fray with the beloved company and major tourism driver, as business leaders and White House rivals bash his stance as a rejection of the small-government tenets of conservatism.
The fight began last year after Disney, in the face of significant pressure, publicly opposed a state law that bans classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades, a policy critics call “Don’t Say Gay”.
As punishment, DeSantis took over Disney World’s self-governing district and appointed a new board of supervisors that would oversee municipal services in the sprawling theme parks. But before the new board came in, the company pushed through an 11th-hour agreement that stripped the new supervisors of much of their authority.
DeSantis’s clash with Disney has been the centrepiece of his speeches as he toured the United States ahead of his expected presidential bid. But as the battle has intensified, it has brought mounting political risk.
Former President Donald Trump, the favourite for the Republican nomination, has slammed DeSantis’s stance, saying on social media that the governor “is being destroyed by Disney” and warning that the company would reduce its investments in Florida.
The dispute even earned a mention during Saturday’s White House Correspondent’s Dinner, with Democratic President Joe Biden joking that he had DeSantis jokes prepared, but “Mickey Mouse beat the hell out of me” and got there first.