Over the last month, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has changed the trajectory of money-losing New College of Florida. The plan is already in motion, moving the school away from its meandering journey into left-wing academic experimentation and toward what the governor’s allies have described as a more focused and traditional academic path.
Time will tell whether the changes will pay off, but for now at least, six new DeSantis-appointed trustees appear to have seized control over the flailing institution, have removed the school’s president, and installed former Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran as interim president. Corcoran’s mission will be to overhaul what DeSantis Press Secretary Bryan Griffin describes as “trendy, truth-relative concepts” with rigorous academic instruction and standards.
On paper, at least, the takeover and planned transformation of the school appears to be relatively straightforward. The college’s small size makes the major changes already underfoot much easier to manage and the strategic game plan relatively simple to execute.
But the Governor and Republican lawmakers are about to undertake a much more ambitious plan on Monday: a state takeover of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, created in 1967 to give Walt Disney World control over issues such as land use, fire protection and wastewater services over the sprawling area occupied by the theme park. It’s already been widely reported that DeSantis will seek a series of changes that include a state-controlled board that would run the district and ensuring that the district’s debts could not be transferred to nearby Orange County.
Sound familiar? It’s an awful lot like the New College takeover template.
But where New College was “easy pickings” by virtue of its size and limited ability to push back against the changes, taking over the Reedy Creek Improvement District presents an entirely new set of challenges for DeSantis and his colleagues. If New College was a tasty wedge salad appetizer, Reedy Creek would be “The Old 96’er,” that giant porterhouse steak John Candy managed to put down in the movie “The Great Outdoors.”
The point is, it can be done, but at what cost?
And we’re not strictly talking about financial costs, here, either. The takeover of Reedy Creek is a high-stakes game that carries with it legal and political ramifications to accompany the financial implications. All of those things may be manageable, but it won’t be nearly as simple as the takeover and transformation of New College, because Walt Disney World is a much different beast, with far-reaching resources and allies that can be brought to bear.
Already, Florida’s legacy media is running their typical playbook lambasting DeSantis for his “heavy-handed” approach to New College, complete with front-page images of emotional school staff and sympathetic headlines. Certified DeSantis-hater Diane Roberts wrote several of the New College lamentations herself for a variety of media outlets, a testament to limited number of media-savvy allies that New College could call upon to stir up the opposition.
Disney World has the resources to play the game a bit differently, so buckle in, because things might get interesting. It’s not clear just what the entertainment giant plans to do to dissuade DeSantis and his legislative allies from their current course. New (old) Disney CEO Bob Iger, who replaced DeSantis’s previous sparring partner, Bob Chapek, has already signalled a somewhat softer tone when it comes to the politically-charged rhetoric at the center of the Reedy Creek kerfluffle: Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by opponents.
If there’s any company in the world capable of waging traditional media warfare, it’s the Walt Disney Company. But in DeSantis, Disney may have met its political match, because the governor has shown he won’t be swayed by the tried-and-true method of stirring up sentiment in the legacy media and using that to leverage changes in public policy. Indeed, where many political figures have tried and failed, DeSantis has made his media stoicism his trademark. Even former president Donald Trump, who’s taken more abuse from the legacy media than any living person in history, still shows some sensitivity to media attacks and attempted to court those traditional media outlets for as long as he could.
Then there’s the argument that conservatives believe in smaller, more limited government, and prefer to allow highly motivated private sector entities – including Disney – as much self-automony as possible. Indeed, conservative Republicans prefer lower taxes and reduced regulations, which are the very foundation of the conservative, limited government mantra.
But the DeSantis Administration rightly points out that the problem with Reedy Creek is that it afforded Disney far more autonomy than virtually every other business entity in the state enjoyed. Republicans don’t like to pick winners and losers, but back in the 1960’s, that’s exactly what Florida lawmakers did when it handed Disney the reigns of its own private government.
Those days appear to be over, for good. At least on paper.
“The corporate kingdom has come to an end. Under the proposed legislation, Disney will no longer control its own government, will live under the same laws as everyone else, will be responsible for their outstanding debts, and will pay their fair share of taxes,” said DeSantis Communications Director Taryn Fenske. “Imposing a state-controlled board will also ensure that Orange County cannot use this issue as a pretext to raise taxes on Orange County residents.”
Those are worthy goals, no matter what company is in the crosshairs. Beyond the rhetoric, however, Florida lawmakers, Governor DeSantis, and Disney’s lawyers will all have a say in the matter before this is over. Expect lots of stories in the days ahead, as lawmakers grapple with the realities of taking over the administration of a $100 million quasi-government budget with $1 billion in outstanding debt.
DeSantis is not stoic; he’s stolid. He has his fingers in his ears and doesn’t hear the finer points of criticism, only a dull roar that he can ignore. Meanwhile, Ron is assisting his wealthy friends at the expense of the citizenry.
When Disney took over Reedy Creek it was aptly named. It was mostly marshy uninhabitable space. Disney created an incredible family entertainment center drawing people from all over the US and the world to the Orlando area. Disney World is known as a clean and safe place to bring your family. It handles it’s own policing, fire department and all aspects of security. Disney World has sparked the building of new residential communities. And, Disney World brings millions and millions of tourists to the Orlando area outside of it’s property.
Yes, Disney World is quite profitable for itself. At the same time it brings billions of dollars and tourists to the economy of Florida.
What earthly benefit is there for the state of Florida to upset this system that works so well for the entire state? “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
The Kissimmee area was a thriving cattle region that was moving to manufacturing in a measured, guided way without damaging the fragile ecosystem of wetlands that replenish the Aquifer. Disney promised to build ‘communities of tomorrow’ respecting the environment that makes up our unusual state. Instead its concreted over wetlands and lakes as well as used eminent domain to claim private property. All using the power the Florida legislature gave it. That latest was just the final straw of 55 years of broken promises.
Only the MAGA crowd is happy with Ron DeSantis. We’ve got a dozen Republican friends in Palm Coast and have asked all of them what they think about the continuous stream of freedoms Ron DeSantis is taking away. They’re not happy at all and in fact, are appalled. This is why Ron DeSantis will never be President of The United States.
The simple fact is that Disney is a business and should not be a government too! Let’s leave that for the Vatican. Disney was given special treatment back in the 1970’s to lure them to Florida. The state wanted the tax revenue and jobs. That was about 50 years ago. Disney is an established business and no longer requires special tax treatment.
The idea of creating limited advantages for business moving to Florida is still a good idea, but they should not be placed outside the matrix of state and local governments. These businesses need to hire U.S. citizens and pay some taxes. These special arrangements must end when the state sees they are no longer needed. Illistration: A widget factory moves to Florida and get a waiver on impact fees and private property taxes for 10 years if they hire 2000 Florida resident U.S. citizens and maintain that level of employment. If they fail to hire the correct number of workers, they are penalized. Both sides get benefits and both sides live up to their word.
Funny how you all missed the last sentence. This is what Desantis fought for, because of a political tantrum. Why take on this burden? “Expect lots of stories in the days ahead, as lawmakers grapple with the realities of taking over the administration of a $100 million quasi-government budget with $1 billion in outstanding debt.”