Disney CEO Bob Iger slammed Florida governor Ron DeSantis as both “anti-business” and “anti-Florida” in his first public remarks about the Republican governor’s ongoing retaliation efforts against Disney.
Iger made the remarks during Disney’s annual shareholders meeting on Monday, which brings out a litany of, let’s call them, “colorful” characters, who get to directly shout at the Disney board about a supposed woke agenda, about aligning with Communist China or any other wacky political ideology you can think of. Someone asked Bob about how the company was protecting shareholder value in response to the legal battle in Florida, and Iger challenged that the Florida governor trying to “retaliate” or “punish” a company for taking a position on a political issue was a violation of its constitutional rights.
“While the company may not have handled the position it took very well, a company has the right to freedom of speech just like individuals do. In taking the position, the governor got very angry about the decision Disney took,” Iger said, without referring to DeSantis by name. “And it seems like he’s decided to retaliate against us, include the naming of a new board to oversee the property of the business, in effect to seek to punish a company for its exercise of a constitutional right. That just seems really wrong to me. Against any company or individual, but particularly to a company that means so much to the state that you live in.”
Iger went on to tout the millions of people coming to visit the state and spend tax dollars within Florida, and he also noted that Disney still plans to invest $17 billion in Walt Disney World in Orlando across the next 10 years, which he estimates will create 13,000 new Disney jobs and thousands of other indirect jobs around the area.
“Our point on this is any action to thwart those, particularly on a position the company took, sounds not just anti-business but sounds anti-Florida,” Iger concluded.
For context, Disney’s feud with DeSantis goes back to when Bob Chapek was still in charge in March of 2022. The Florida government was set to pass legislation that had come to be known the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which would remove LGBTQ+ reading materials from classrooms and prevent teachers from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity in schools. Disney employees staged walkouts over the company’s lack of a response to the bill, and Chapek ultimately took a stand against it. DeSantis responded by revoking Disney’s special governing privileges in running Walt Disney World, something that dates back to the ’60s known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District. Flash forward to a year later, and DeSantis ultimately removed the current board at Reedy Creek and installed several Republicans to have oversight over the new district.
But Iger’s real mic drop moment was reported last week, when it was revealed that the day before Disney’s board members were kicked out, it passed a new agreement that strips the new board of most of its governing power over what Disney does, doing so with a unusual “Royal Lives Clause” that stays in effect until “21 years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III, king of England.”
Iger on Monday was asked broadly as well about why Disney feels the need to comment at all on political issues, whether in its content or in its public statements, rather than strictly be focused on entertainment. He acknowledged that Disney’s mission is to entertain but do so with stories that reflect the world around us. And when it comes to political statements, he explained there’s a good reason for doing so.
“My job is to strive to do what I think is best for our business, and that includes what’s best for our cast members or employees and what will enable both to flourish. I don’t think we can or should weigh in on every issue, and I also understand there are going to be gray areas…there are times when I actually believe we shouldn’t,” Iger said. “When we take a position on those matters, there’s a true reason why we have, and in almost all cases it has to be because it directly affects our business or our people.”