CNN New York --
Florida Governor. Ron DeSantis was praised by the right for his retaliation against Disney's CEO for choosing to (rather timidly!) enter the public discourse about a controversial state law.
DeSantis was victorious in Florida's GOP vs The Walt Disney Company's first round. This result ultimately cost Bob Chapek, Disney CEO, his job.
DeSantis is a possible presidential candidate in 2024. The standoff has tarnished his reputation as a smart leader who will not be easily pushed around by any of the state's largest employers.
DeSantis (44 years old) is now up against Bob Iger, a long-time Disney boss and a Hollywood power player who has decades of experience on the national stage. Iger, 72, isn’t letting anyone down.
Here's the deal: Iger retired in 2020, only to return nearly three years later to take over when Chapek was forced to leave (more later). He doesn't have time to waste. He has a deadline of two years to find a successor and must do this while trying to revive a sprawling media conglomerate that is 100 years old.
Once upon a...
We need to look back at almost exactly one year ago in order to understand how the feud escalated.
Chapek was a mess when he tried to attack DeSantis with Republican legislation. His opponents called it 'Don't Say Gay' as it limits classroom instruction on topics relating to gender identity and sexual orientation.
Chapek tried initially to remain neutral on the legislation but then spoke up after being confronted by backlash from his employees, more than 75,000 of which work in Florida. His wishy-washy approach did not go down well with either side.
DeSantis then signed the bill into law and set his sights to punish Disney for daring challenge him.
GOP lawmakers approved the dissolution of Reedy Creek, a special tax district that was created by Disney. The district was essentially a mini-state within a state that allowed Disney to take control of the 25,000 acres which are home to Walt Disney World Resort as well as several other properties.
However, the effort was hampered by the fact that Reedy Creek's debt obligations were $1 billion in the region's counties.
The legislature voted again and changed Reedy Creek into the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. This district will be managed by a governor-appointed committee.
However, Disney's lawyers quietly made changes to the Disney-allied board, which stripped the power of the DeSantis-appointed incoming board.
Fun fact: The Disney-allied members signed their power to the company under a so-called royal life clause, which the incoming board seems to have overlooked. It stipulated that control over the land could not be terminated until 21 years after the death -- and this isn't a joke -- of the last survivor from the descendants of King Charles III. King of England as of the date this declaration was made. This is roughly 100 years assuming that one of the King’s grandchildren lives past 80.
Ron Peri, a DeSantis choice for the new board, said last week that "This basically makes Disney the government." Practically, this board is losing the majority of its ability, other than maintaining roads and basic infrastructure.
Iger speaks out
Iger remained silent, at least publicly, throughout the months of dispute over the future special tax district.
Iger was too busy to make headlines elsewhere and his lawyers were left to out-maneuver the GOP legislators.
Iger announced last week that Disney would lay off 7,000 employees as part of a $5.5billion cost-reduction program. Ike Perlmutter was also fired by Iger, a Marvel executive who was a problem for Disney. Victoria Alonso was another Marvel executive who was allegedly in violation of her contract.
Iger did not speak out on Monday at the shareholder meeting. He called the governor's retaliation for Disney's "not only anti-business" but also "anti-Florida".
Iger stated that the company had the same right to freedom as individuals. "The governor was very upset about Disney's position and it seems that he has decided to retaliate against me... to seek to punish a company because it exercised a constitutional right. This just seems so wrong to me. It's against anyone, any individual, but especially against a company that is so important to the state you live in.
DeSantis was not pleased with the Disney lawyers' fast-track on him.
"There is a lot of back-and-forths happening now with the state taking over, but rest assured, you haven't seen anything yet."