Yesterday we noted the interesting and hilarious fact that Disney appears to have outmaneuvered and outwitted Ron DeSantis’s effort to strip the company of its quasi-governmental powers over the huge parcel of land that makes up Disney World as payback for the company’s support of gay rights. When we heard the story yesterday it may have sounded like the company just pulled off some last-minute switcheroo when for a minute the folks in Tallahassee took their eye off the ball. But that’s not quite right. It was an effort that took place in plain sight over almost a year.
The fun got started all the way back on April 19, 2022, two days after the state legislature passed the bill to dissolve Disney’s special governing district. On that date Disney notified Orange County, the county in which the 39-square-mile parcel of land is situated, that it had signed two new agreements with the the Reedy Creek Improvement District. Those are the two key agreements which secure Disney’s rights probably well into the 22nd century.
The agreements were announced publicly at a meeting of the Reedy Creek board on Jan. 25 and then on Feb. 8 the board officially ratified the agreements.
Public acts like this have to be done in public. If you’ve ever been involved in local town government you know this. And Florida has particularly robust public notice laws. So this was all done in plain sight. Obviously local governing board meetings don’t get carried live on Fox and CNN. But this has been a big effort by the DeSantis administration. And well … they’re the state government. So “who follows local government board meetings!” really isn’t an excuse that cuts it for them. They just weren’t paying attention. Didn’t sweat the details.
There’s at least a pale analog here to conservative governance in general. When you don’t really care about governing or actually despise government you tend not to sweat the details and inner workings of how it functions. I would think this might be a bit of an exception. But maybe not.
Now, you’re probably saying, okay, that’s egg on DeSantis’s face but they can just pass a new law or get this undone in court. But don’t be so sure. Disney did everything by the book, with all the procedural niceties and public notice required. They could just pass a law or more likely challenge it in court. But there are two big problems with that, one ideological and one more broadly political and economic.
Republicans are supposedly really big into property rights and contracts. This is a lawful contract Disney entered into with local government. Coming along and just undoing that is a major “takings” issue that goes against all sorts of right-wing doctrine. But, Josh, you say, Republicans are hypocrites! So why does this matter? Well, yeah, probably so. But here’s where you get into the more practical issue which is more one that will play out in the state courts rather than in the state legislature. The state government can go to court and try to get this undone. The state law experts interviewed in this Miami Herald article say Disney has by far the stronger case. But the deeper problem is that the kinds of state legal precedents you’d set to undo this would have the effect of weakening the security of a lot of property and contractual rights, especially in real estate. And you know who cares a ton about property and contractual rights in real estate? Right, rich people. Actually, a lot of people. But especially rich folks heavily invested in real estate. So I’m pretty skeptical.
If you want to go that route, as the Herald article makes clear, you’re also probably looking at years of litigation. And that probably means none of this is really going to happen. Because we have to remember, this was really all just a DeSantis political stunt, put together as part of his possible run for President. It’s quite unlikely that even Ron DeSantis will give a crap about this in a year or two, let alone some other future governor who may not agree with the original decision and if they did agree will certainly have better things to do with their time than creating bad legal precedent by litigating the long tail of DeSantis’s strutting nonsense from all the way back in 2021.
Pretty clear: Disney 1, Meatball Ron 0.