DeSantis urges Bob Iger to drop Disney lawsuit, accept the end of ‘special privileges’

DeSantis to Disney: Drop the lawsuit, let's move forward

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday said that Disney CEO Bob Iger should drop his company’s lawsuit accusing the Republican governor of political retaliation.

“They’re suing the state of Florida. They’re going to lose that lawsuit,” DeSantis said in an interview with CNBC’s “Last Call” set to air in full at 7 p.m. ET.

“So what I would say is, drop the lawsuit,” the governor said when asked what he would tell Iger if he were to give him a call today.

“This is a great place to do business,” DeSantis said, citing Florida’s status as the top state economy in CNBC’s latest national survey. The Sunshine State scored eighth overall in CNBC’s ranking of America’s Top States for Business in 2023.

“Your competitors all do very well here, Universal, SeaWorld. They have not had the same special privileges as you have,” DeSantis said he’d tell Iger.

“So all we want to do is treat everybody the same, and let’s move forward. I’m totally fine with that. But I’m not fine with giving extraordinary privileges, you know, to one special company at the exclusion of everybody else,” he said.

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DeSantis was referencing Walt Disney World’s special tax district, which has become a key battleground in the governor’s long-running feud with one of his state’s top employers.

The governor and his allies targeted the district — which has allowed the Orlando-area theme park to essentially self-govern its operations since the 1960s — shortly after Disney denounced a controversial GOP-backed classroom bill last year.

Facing pressure from within his company, Disney’s then-CEO Bob Chapek came out against the legislation, which limited classroom discussion of gender and sexual orientation and has been dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by critics. After the bill was signed in March 2022, Disney vowed to help repeal it.

In February, DeSantis signed a bill putting the district under his control by letting him handpick its five-member board of supervisors. That new board accused Disney of thwarting its power by crafting long-term development deals. In April, the DeSantis board voted to nullify those contracts, prompting Disney to sue in federal court.

The company alleges DeSantis “orchestrated at every step” a campaign of government retaliation “as punishment for Disney’s protected speech.”

DeSantis and the other defendants in the lawsuit have asked for the case to be dismissed.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican presidential candidate, speaks with CNBC’s Brian Sullivan on Aug. 14, 2023.

David A. Grogan | CNBC

The governor said in Monday’s interview that he and his allies have “basically moved on” from the feud.

“I would just say, go back to what you did well. I think it’s going to be the right business decision, and all that,” he said.

But DeSantis has frequently invoked his battle with Disney on the campaign trail as he seeks the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. The governor, whose political style features a heavy emphasis on fighting “woke” social issues, has accused Disney of sexualizing children.

Iger told CNBC last month that those claims are “preposterous and inaccurate.”

Once seen as a major threat to Donald Trump in the GOP primary race, DeSantis has struggled to close his polling gap with the former president and shore up concerns from some top donors about the campaign.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of Universal Studios and CNBC.

CNBC’s Sarah Whitten contributed to this report.

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