Disney drags King Charles into 'woke' row with Ron DeSantis

·3 min read
Supporters of Ron DeSantis - Reuters
Supporters of Ron DeSantis - Reuters

Disney has launched a last-ditch effort to stop Ron DeSantis taking over its Florida theme parks, using an obscure legal loophole involving King Charles.

It is the latest salvo in the row between Disney and the Florida governor over his “don’t say gay” bill banning discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in schools.

Disney until recently oversaw its 27,000-acre theme park near Orlando through a board it controlled called the Reedy Creek Improvement District. But in February Mr DeSantis created a new board to control Disney’s district, in an effort to end what he called the company’s “woke agenda”.

Before the new board was able to take over, however, Disney rushed through changes to an agreement it had previously signed that limited the board’s actions.

The 11th hour intervention came in the form of a so-called royal lives clause inserted into the special tax district agreement, which effectively preserves much of Disney’s control over the area.

The agreement is valid in perpetuity, or until “21 years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III,” according to the document, which appeared to have been signed the day before the Florida House passed a bill paving the way for the DeSantis appointees to take over.

Similar so-called royal lives clauses have been used in legal documents since the late 17th Century. They still exist in some UK contracts, but are rarely seen in the USA.

King Charles - Samir Hussein
King Charles - Samir Hussein

Buckingham Palace is yet to respond to Disney’s move.

The Royal family sticks to a "never complain, never explain" policy, particularly on party political issues in other countries where their involvement could cause a diplomatic incident.

The agreement gives Disney broad veto powers over any changes to properties in the park.

The DeSantis-backed board has also been prohibited from using Disney’s name or those of its characters, as well as from selling Disney-related merchandise.

Members of the new, DeSantis-backed board say the agreement bypasses them entirely, handing total control to Disney.

"It completely circumvents the authority of this board to govern," Brian Aungst Jr said, adding that a backlash was likely to follow.

"We're going to have to deal with it and correct it," he said on Wednesday.

He called Disney's actions "a naked attempt to circumvent the will of the voters and the will of the Florida Legislature".

The Republican-aligned board is hiring lawyers to contest the matter.

Ron DeSantis - Miami Herald
Ron DeSantis - Miami Herald

Disney said in a statement that "all agreements signed between Disney and the District were appropriate, and were discussed and approved in open, noticed public forums".

Mr DeSantis’s move effectively tore up an agreement that had existed between Disney and the state of Florida since the 1970s that created a special district allowing Disney to tax itself to cover the costs of providing essential services like water and electricity to its parks.

Mr DeSantis, widely viewed as a potential challenger for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, said in February: “Today the corporate kingdom finally comes to an end. There's a new sheriff in town, and accountability will be the order of the day.”

The Republican politician has campaigned to reform institutions he believes have been hijacked by social justice activists.

Republican politicians had pushed to abolish the Disney region entirely, but that could have lumped the state with $2 billion (£1.7 billion) of debt.