Gov. Ron DeSantis has appointed a key figure in Florida’s “parental rights” movement to the board that will oversee Disney’s Orlando theme parks, in a sign that the governor is still leaning in to the cultural fight with the entertainment giant.
DeSantis signed a bill on Monday that strips Disney of control over its special governing district and establishes a successor agency to handle zoning, fire service, infrastructure and utilities at the parks.
“The corporate kingdom finally comes to an end,” DeSantis said.
He also appointed five members to the board of the newly named Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.
They include Bridget Ziegler, a Sarasota school board member who has built a national profile by combating “gender ideology” and “critical race theory” in public schools. Ziegler’s advocacy for a “Parents’ Bill of Rights” helped pave the way for the Parental Rights in Education act, known to its opponents as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Ziegler was among those standing behind DeSantis when he signed the bill last year. Disney’s opposition to the bill prompted DeSantis and the Florida Legislature to move to dissolve the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the self-governing fief that Disney had controlled since 1967.
At a signing ceremony on Monday, DeSantis took the opportunity to attack the company and its content, saying there was a movement among the company’s Burbank-based employees “to inject a lot of this sexuality into the programming for kids.”
“We want our kids to be kids,” DeSantis said. “Those are not the values we want to promote in the state of Florida.”
The governor was referring to leaked internal videos in which a Disney producer spoke about “adding queerness” to programming and the company’s support for her “not-at-all-secret gay agenda.”
Ziegler also blasted the company last fall in response to a story about a school marching band that was asked to cover its Native American logo in order to perform at Walt Disney World. The principal withdrew the band from the performance.
“Shameful to see Disney continue to use children as pawns to advance their WOKE political agenda,” Ziegler wrote on Twitter.
Ziegler’s husband, Christian, was elected earlier this month as chair of the Florida Republican Party.
In addition to Zeigler, DeSantis appointed four other board members: Martin Garcia, a Tampa attorney; Brian Aungst, Jr., a Clearwater attorney; Mike Sasso, an attorney in Winter Park; and Ron Peri, the chairman and CEO of The Gathering, a Christian ministry.
Peri has argued that local schools are “off the rails,” and has taken issue with the inclusion of “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” in school libraries.
DeSantis said the new board will look at increasing pay for the Reedy Creek firefighters, who have supported him. He said the board is made up of people who “want to see Disney be what Walt envisioned.”
“When you lose your way, you gotta have people that are going to tell you the truth,” DeSantis said. “All these board members very much would like to see the type of entertainment that all families can appreciate.”
DeSantis also suggested, however, that the new board might not be a permanent solution. He said the board members will have the power to negotiate with the local counties — Orange and Osceola — on how to dissolve the district and turn over its governance to local agencies, “which we would like to do at some point.”
“We’re only going do that if there’s no problems or burdens placed on the taxpayers,” he added.
Disney has previously indicated that it will not sue to block the state takeover, but will instead “work within this new framework.”
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