Governor DeSantis made headlines this week after declaring that he’s “moved on” from the on-going legal fight between the State of Florida and Walt Disney World – the very same legal battle that shot him to international stardom as a crusader against left-wing cultural hegemony.So why back down now?
The lethargy of voters – both in Florida and nationally – is a likely explanation.
It’s hardly surprising, after 17 months of back-and-forth.
Here in the greater Orlando area, Republican voters will tell you that they feel the fight has gone on for far too long: they’ve grown tired of hearing about it, absent a successful resolution.But the fight against so-called ‘woke capital’, spearheaded by DeSantis and other GOP politicians, is still an important cause that a large majority of conservatives support.
It’s not the battle itself that Republicans are sick of, but the manner in which it was fought.These tactical failures can be traced back to a single mistake made on day one of the Florida-Disney standoff: trying to pass a bill dissolving the Disney’s special tax district that wouldn’t take legal effect for more than a year.
The bill was signed last year on April the 22nd, but the tax district was not mandated to dissolve until June 1st 2023 – a sizeable 14-month gap.That timeframe didn’t make sense then, and makes even less sense now.
Kicking the can that far down the road was a big mistake that DeSantis almost certainly regrets.The truth is that DeSantis failed to properly think through his attack on the Mouse, not knowing the effect stalling on such an emergent issue would have long-term on his meticulously crafted political image.
Yes, he wanted to dissolve the tax district.
Yes, he wanted to send a message.
But that was about all he had on the chalk board.Passing a bill to dissolve the tax district over a year out bought him time to work out the details of a plan.
But the delay brought growing public weariness over the issue.
Even with a righteous or popular cause, the public can get bored and move on.
That’s something any seasoned politician should know.While driving to Tallahassee to vote in the Special Legislative Session in mid-April last year, I received a call informing me that the Florida Governor had added a surprise item: a bill to dissolve the Reedy Creek Improvement District.
This bill would directly impact the special Disney tax and self-governing district, and was tantamount to a declaration of war against the corporation.We conservatives in the Legislature were excited to be fighting back against the woke, globalist company that had been hurling highly politicised attacks at our new Parent’s Rights Bill, also being passed in the Legislature that month.
But I was perplexed when I saw the dissolution date was to take place 14 months in the future.
Why not dissolve it now?
Why wait?First of all, the initial plan to dissolve the district was unrealistic.
The tax district, which was 25,000+ acres large containing hundreds of millions of assets within it, couldn’t be removed under such simplistic and clunky legislation.
Simply disintegrating it would create all sorts of tax, administrative, and debt liabilities – no small headache for any lawmaker.So the real plan was to reform the district.
The Governor pushed for a bill to break down the district under the shared understanding that the district would be reformed before the 14-month deadline, and therefore not actually dissolved.
And that’s exactly what happened the following Legislative session.
The district was reformed and the legislative language totally dissolving it was removed.But right when the battle with Disney appeared to be over was actually exactly when it began.
Days before the Bill’s passage, Disney began to fight back.
They filed a lawsuit and rolled out a media and public relations campaign to turn public opinion in their favour.
Two legal fights over the district reforms – taking place in both state and federal court – are still ongoing.
But what did the Governor expect?
He should have seen this coming from miles away.
The truth is, had those reforms been passed last summer or fall, then they would be ending around this time.
He should have been enjoying the fruits of those victories during his run for the Presidency.
I said then and still say now that we should have passed the reforms immediately and without procrastination.
But hope is not all lost: there have still been culture war victories in the meantime.
Two weeks ago, the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (the newly named district) announced that it would totally end all Diversity, Equity and Inclusion training programs for employees.
This alone made the Disney challenge worth it – but the Governor has nonetheless come away from this debacle bruised.The fight with Disney may well be the most politically significant chapter of Ron DeSantis’ career.
Unfortunately for him, his poor judgement in executing his plan might be better remembered than his ideological bravery.Anthony Sabatini served in the Florida House of Representative from 2018–2022 and is currently Chairman of the Lake County Republican PartyBroaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism.
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