Disney CEO Bob Iger Calls “Retaliation” By Gov. Ron DeSantis “Not Only Anti-Business, But Anti-Florida”

Calling moves by Governor Ron DeSantis “anti-business and anti-Florida,” Bob Iger showed today that he isn’t afraid of a street brawl with the GOP presidential hopeful.

“We love the state of Florida,” the Disney CEO said today at the company’s annual shareholder meeting, his first since returning to the top job. “We respect and appreciate what the state has done for us,” Iger added, but it’s been “a two-way street.”

In slick opening video, standing relaxed and debonair in front of Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, the CEO who returned to Disney in Novemer took a few benign swipes at DeSantis’ attempts to strip Disney of long held jurisdictional rights in the Orlando area. “This has always been one of my favorite spots,” he said, noting it used to be “remote swamp land” before Disney stepped in “thanks to those who dare to dream.”

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“I am so proud of Disney legacy in Central Florida and around the world.”

But during a Q&A with shareholders, Iger stepped right up to the political plate and took a big swing.

“A company has a right to freedom of speech just like an individual does,” the CEO said of Disney’s criticism last year of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law. Acknowledging that the company’s response under previous chief exec Bob Chapek wasn’t initially handed as artfully as it could have been, the past and present CEO hit back at the Florida Governor with some of the GOP’s own talking points. DeSantis “retaliates against us — in effect to punish a company for exercising its constitutional right,” he said. “And that seems really wrong to me.”

He later noted that “diversity is a real priority for us” and expressed his desire that Disney continue to create content that promotes “greater understanding, greater acceptance.”

He also drilled down on what Disney has meant to Florida, noting that some “50 million visitors will come through our gates this year, about 8 million from outside the U.S. And we are the biggest taxpayers in the state. And we are planning to invest $17 million over the next ten years.” Iger said that that means 13,000 new WDW jobs, plus many thousands of indirect jobs, and more tax revenue. “Our point is, that any action that thwarts those efforts simply to retaliate against a postion the company took sounds not only anti-business, but anti-Florida.”

What a difference a makes. The meeting follows Iger having fended off a proxy battle, conveniently eliminated a thorn-in-the-side called Ike Perlmutter amid a wave of layoffs to streamline the company, and apparently clawing back the company’s rights in Orlando despite DeSantis.

The Governor fired back today in a letter released just before today’s meeting. He’s challenging the legality of a long-term development deal approved last month that blocked the state’s change of the law to regain control of the Reedy Creek development district.

It was at Disney’s 2022 annual meeting a year ago that Bob Chapek under pressure first spoke out against Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

More to come…

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