Disney-DeSantis war of words heats up at annual meeting

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Disney CEO Bob Iger on Monday said any retaliatory actions by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature against the company that threaten jobs or expansion at its Florida resort is not only “anti-business but anti-Florida.”

Answering a question during an online shareholders' meeting, Iger said that the Republican governor and lawmakers appeared to be retaliating against the company for exercising its constitutional rights when Disney last year criticized Florida's nicknamed “Don't Say Gay” legislation. The measure bars instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, as well as lessons deemed not age-appropriate.

In response, Florida lawmakers passed, and DeSantis signed, legislation revamping the government-like board that oversees Walt Disney World's 27,000-acre (10,926-hectare) property outside Orlando. Among the changes the legislation made was that the Florida governor got to pick the five supervisors of the governing board instead of it being controlled by Disney, as it had been in its previous 55 years.

By taking on Disney, DeSantis attempted to further his reputation as a culture warrior willing to battle perceived political enemies and wield the power of state government to accomplish political goals, a strategy that is expected to continue ahead of his potential White House run.

But the DeSantis-appointed supervisors said last week at the second meeting of the revamped board that their predecessors had pulled a fast one on them by passing restrictive covenants that strip the new board of most of its powers.

DeSantis on Monday asked Florida's chief inspector general to launch an investigation into the actions of the previous board.

“Any legal or ethical violations should be referred to the appropriate authorities,” DeSantis said in a letter to chief inspector general.

“Disney is again fighting to keep its special corporate benefits and dodge Florida law,” DeSantis spokesman Jeremy Redfern said in an email. “We are not going to let that happen. As Governor DeSantis recently said, ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet.’”

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Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at @MikeSchneiderAP

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