TALLAHASSEE - Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday said Walt Disney Parks and Resorts should drop a federal lawsuit that claims retaliation by the state and accept changes to a special district that long benefited the theme-park giant.
In a CNBC interview focused on the economy, the Republican presidential candidate said the state has "basically moved on" from issues surrounding the changes to the former Reedy Creek Improvement District.
Amid a feud between DeSantis and Disney, the Legislature this year replaced the Reedy Creek district with the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.
The changes have led to state and federal lawsuits, with Disney alleging the changes are retaliation for its opposition to a 2022 law that restricts instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida schools.
"Your competitors all do very well here. Universal. SeaWorld. They have not had the same special privileges as you have," said DeSantis when pressed on what he'd say to Disney CEO Bob Iger about the federal lawsuit.
"So, all we want to do is treat everybody the same and let's move forward. I'm totally fine with that," DeSantis said.
"But I'm not fine with giving extraordinary privileges, you know, to one special company at the exclusion of everybody else."
The former Reedy Creek Improvement District was created in the 1960s and largely gave Disney self-governance power.
In revamping the district this year, the Republican-controlled Legislature gave DeSantis the power to appoint the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board.
The state is seeking dismissal of the federal lawsuit filed in April by Disney.
Disney and DeSantis have locked horns since former Disney CEO Bob Chapek announced opposition to the law restricting instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools.
DeSantis has featured his stand against Disney in his presidential campaign.
In the federal lawsuit, Disney argues its First Amendment rights were violated and business harmed by a "relentless campaign" of retribution orchestrated by DeSantis and other officials for opposing the 2022 law.
The lawsuit also alleges a violation of a constitutional prohibition on altering contracts, an unconstitutional taking of property without proper compensation and violation of due-process rights.
Before the new DeSantis-appointed board could be seated, the former Reedy Creek board entered development-related agreements with Disney.
The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board has filed a state lawsuit challenging those agreements.
DeSantis, who during campaign stops has accused Disney of supporting the "sexualization" of children, said on Monday, "I think parents have lost some confidence that this is a company that's really speaking to what they want, the way it had been traditionally."
During an appearance last month on CNBC's "Squawk Box" show, Iger dismissed claims by DeSantis that the company's Orlando parks were experiencing a drop in attendance because of the fight with the governor.
Iger described as "preposterous" arguments by DeSantis that the company was "sexualizing children."
Iger also defended the company's right to question the 2022 law.
"The last thing that I want for the company is for the company to be drawn into any culture wars," Iger said.
"We've operated for almost 100 years as a company making product that we actually are proud of in terms of its impact on the world. I joke every once in a while we're there to manufacture fun."
Iger didn't bring up the lawsuit during a second-quarter company earnings call last week.
He noted that Walt Disney World's business has slackened amid an overall "softening" of tourism in many pockets of Florida.
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