A Mickey Mouse Matter
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A Mickey Mouse Matter

Gov. DeSantis is messing with the wrong mouse on special districts.

To: Mr. Bob Chapek
CEO
The Walt Disney Company
Magic Kingdom Disney
World, FL

Dear Bob:

When I was growing up, a matter of no significance was often called a Mickey Mouse matter. And as happens every year in some election, a voter will show frustration over their electoral choices by writing in and voting for Mickey Mouse. In fact, it’s not uncommon for high schools or universities to elect Mickey Mouse as president of their student body. But as a former executive of Disney once told the undersigned, don’t mess with the mouse. 

But that’s exactly what the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, has decided to do. In fact, in fundraising letters to his supporters, he has made the boast that if Disney wanted to pick a fight, it picked the wrong guy to mess with. What has caused this pusillanimous pachyderm to quake in the presence of a 23-pound cartoon mouse is Disney’s opposition to a law restricting certain curricula in public schools. What probably increased the elephant’s anger was the pledge to cease all political contributions to politicians who supported that legislation. This threat, by you, Mr. Chapek, encouraged a stream of GOP politicians to introduce anti-Disney legislation—elephants on parade! But, as it turned out, this Dumbo won’t fly. 

The Disney legislation, passed in a special session of the Florida legislature, was to dissolve the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID). The RCID encompasses four Disney theme parks, two water parks, 175 miles of roadway, and functions like a county government, providing services like firefighting, power, water, and roads. This special tax district was created in 1967 to allow Disney to build Disney World in the Orlando area. Disney now employs approximately 80,000 people in Florida. In 2021, the 50th anniversary of the theme park, the Walt Disney World Resort paid $780.3 million in state and local taxes. The motive of political retribution was obvious—several of the elephantine sponsors claimed that Disney was importing “California values” to Florida. (It should be noted that the bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Randy Fine, was born in Arizona.) The governor expressed the view that Disney was trying to advance its “woke” agenda. Further, these Republicans tried to make it sound like they were leveling the playing field and preventing unfair advantage that Disney had received as a designated special district. These arguments are clearly a Mickey Mouse matter. 

The argument that one does not import California values to Florida is hilarious on its face; at least to date, Florida is a top tourist destination and promotes itself as such (the Sunshine State). Many readers of this column visit Florida every winter—that’s why Naples is often called a warm Edina. Fort Myers has been the Minnesota Twins’ spring training home for almost 30 years (a great stadium; you should go). Mickey would blush if he made such an argument.

The real Goofy is to allege that special districts are unique or disfavored. The Reedy Creek Improvement District is hardly unique; Florida, in its infinite non-California wisdom, has established over 1,800 of these special districts. You can see a complete list on the special districts’ official website at FloridaJobs.org (search “special districts”). 

“It is axiomatic in the real world that a government cannot require adherence to a particular political view, ‘woke’ or not, as a requirement to receiving state benefits or aid.” 

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Because this whole episode is starting to resemble Fantasia, let’s take a cartoon break. Late-night TV hosts or stand-up comedians like Bill Maher may want to engage in the game of what Disney character most resembles Ron DeSantis. Certainly, a case may be made for Goofy, possibly Tinker Bell, or maybe Captain Hook. My own vote would be for Scar (ask your grandkids). 

The Florida law requires that county units of government assume the liabilities of any dissolved special districts. Orange County tax collector Scott Randolph told a local Florida TV station that the bill dissolving Reedy Creek would increase the county’s property taxes by 20 to 25 percent. He further pointed out that Orange County taxpayers would have to assume an additional $105 million in operating expenses and $53 million in debt. 

There is something else that won’t fly. Corporations have free speech rights (see Citizens United). It is axiomatic in the real world that a government cannot require adherence to a particular political view, “woke” or not, as a requirement to receiving state benefits or aid; state action must be “content neutral.” Imagine receiving a note from your friendly county tax assessor that your taxes had gone up because you had displayed a yard sign in support of a candidate who ran against that same friendly tax assessor. It would not take the Avengers to put an end to that practice. 

Florida right-wing activists view Gov. DeSantis like 13-year-old boys used to look at Annette Funicello. The state has a history of stuffing a wild ballot box. 

Gov. DeSantis views himself getting into the Disney World Hall of Presidents, but he really should go on all the Disney rides. You don’t have to be a pirate of the Caribbean to know that (politically) dead men tell no tales. If the governor thinks he can prevail against a tiny mouse, he has forgotten that Mickey has a lot more Disney friends at his disposal—the Avengers and a whole army of lightsaber-wielding Jedi, to say nothing of the Force. And as Walt Disney himself said, “It all started with a mouse.”

Sincerely yours,
Vance K. Opperman
Friend of the Mouse

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