Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took over a taxing district controlled by Disney on Feb. 27, a possible retaliation to Disney's opposition of the “don’t say gay” law. (Video: Reuters)
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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis completed the state takeover of a taxing district controlled by Disney for more than half a century Monday by appointing political supporters including a co-founder of Moms For Liberty and the CEO of a Central Florida ministry.

Capping a year-long feud with one of the state’s largest employers, DeSantis signed into law a bill officially granting a new state-appointed board the responsibilities of Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District and named a slate of conservative leaders.

The newly appointed members of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District include Bridget Ziegler, a vocal proponent of DeSantis’s education policies, including the Parental Rights in Education bill dubbed by critics as the “don’t say gay” law that Disney leaders opposed last year. Also named to the board: Ron Peri, who heads the Gathering USA, a Christian ministry, and three attorneys, including the president of the Federalist Society’s Orlando chapter.

Though the board is tasked with overseeing duties such as sewage treatment and road maintenance at Disney’s properties, DeSantis suggested Monday that he is also expecting it to act as a sort of moral arbiter for the company he has described as a “woke Burbank corporation” that is “trying to inject woke ideology” on children.

“When you lose your way, you’ve got to have people that are going to tell you the truth,” DeSantis said. “So we hope they can get back on. But I think all of these board members very much would like to see the type of entertainment that all families can appreciate.”

Florida reporter Lori Rozsa explains how the tension between Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) and Walt Disney Company has escalated into federal court. (Video: Michael Cadenhead/The Washington Post)

The board doesn’t have direct power over the creative content Disney produces, such as movies and characters and rides. But because the new appointees hold purse strings over infrastructure projects, they could influence Disney’s decisions.

“They can decide to borrow money or not to fund projects, or they could decide not to expand infrastructure to allow projects to go forward,” said Aubrey Jewett, an associate professor of political science at the University of Central Florida.

Legislators approved a bill creating the new district entirely composed of DeSantis appointees earlier this month as a fix-it measure after DeSantis pushed the legislature to eliminate the Reedy Creek Improvement District last year. Walt Disney himself advocated for the district in the 1960s to make it easier to grow his enterprise and avoid state bureaucracy.

DeSantis embarked on the campaign to get rid of Reedy Creek after Disney executives criticized a bill he championed that prevents teachers from discussing gender and sexual orientation in early grades. The bill was widely criticized by the LGBTQ community as discriminatory. Disney leaders vowed to help repeal it.

Dissolving the Reedy Creek district would have left taxpayers on the hook for Disney’s bond debt of over $1 billion; instead the legislature approved a bill creating a board ruled by DeSantis appointees in a special session.

DeSantis supporters said the move was a long-needed change to ensure Disney doesn’t have a competitive advantage over other Orlando-area theme parks — a concern shared by some Democrats. But opponents have characterized the move as a hostile act by the Florida governor against a major corporation that fought him on a signature part of his “anti-woke” platform.

The communications office for Walt Disney World did not respond to a request for comment.

On Monday, DeSantis continued to stress his “anti-woke” agenda, inviting speakers to the bill signing who blamed Disney for producing content they characterized as dangerous. One Disney employee invited to the bill signing pointed to the show “Little Demon,” an animated series about Satan’s teen daughter that is streamed on FX Networks, a subsidiary of Disney Entertainment. The show has drawn criticism from conservative Christian activists.

Jewett said the news conference indicates that DeSantis is “charging the board with an agenda.”

“And it seems clear that this new board may put some pressure on Disney not to fight against DeSantis’s agenda,” he added.

Peri, one of the appointees, said that he thinks DeSantis “has done a wonderful job” as governor and that he wasn’t sure yet what his new job would entail. The other board members could not be reached or did not respond to requests for comment.

“I’m honored to have been selected, but at this point I am brand new,” Peri said. “It’s something I have to come up to speed on, and I’ll try to make good and wise decisions.”

Disney’s teams of lawyers and lobbyists have for decades gotten favorable treatment from lawmakers in Tallahassee. Many longtime political observers said DeSantis was touching the third rail of Florida politics when he lashed out at Disney for opposing his parental rights bill.

But Jewett said that while some conservative Republicans outside of Florida have argued that DeSantis is wrong to use state power to punish a company that had crossed him, DeSantis has nonetheless turned the dispute into a political win with the GOP base.

“Politically, it’s been great for him,” Jewett said. “It’s given him a lot of publicity across the country. For his potential primary voters, they just love this stuff, seeing him go toe-to-toe with what he calls a woke corporation.”