Disney World is supposed to be the happiest place on Earth, but U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist doesn’t know if Disney is happy anymore.
Lawmakers met Wednesday to advance legislation to claw back power from the Walt Disney Company over its opposition to Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law. As they convened, Crist returned to Tallahassee, bringing a message of support for the entertainment giant.
Republican lawmakers are pushing the move, at the behest of Gov. Ron DeSantis, who Crist hopes to deny a second term in November.
“To see this kind of exercise of raw power by this Governor at this time against this institution, it’s unbelievable,” Crist told reporters.
Crist was elected Governor in 2006 as a Republican and is running his third gubernatorial bid, his second as a Democrat. The two-term Congressman called DeSantis and the Legislature’s decision to target Disney “un-American.”
“He calls us the freest state in America. What are we, we’re free to do what he tells us to do?” Crist asked.
“I don’t know who’s free under Ron DeSantis’ Florida, but it’s not most of us,” Crist continued.
The parental rights legislation, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay bill” by critics, prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity before the fourth grade and opens the door for parents to sue School Boards over instruction about LGBTQ topics they oppose.
This week’s Special Session has been on the calendar since late last month, when DeSantis vetoed the Legislature’s proposed congressional district maps. On Tuesday, less than three hours before lawmakers were set to convene, the Governor expanded the Special Session to include a pair of proposals targeting Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District (SB 4C/HB 3C) and a carve-out for Disney Plus in last year’s Big Tech bill (SB 6C/HB 5C).
The timing of the proposals, sprung on lawmakers with little to no warning, has been a point of concern for Democrats, who accuse Republican leadership of bowing to DeSantis on Disney and redistricting. The Senate is expected to pass its bills Wednesday afternoon, with the House following suit on Thursday.
“It’s amazing to me how this Governor has consolidated power into one human being,” Crist said. “Why even have a legislative branch? We’re supposed to have three co-equal branches of government, and this flies in the face of that, and I think it’s inappropriate.”
Democratic state Rep. Michele Rayner-Goolsby of St. Petersburg, who is running to succeed Crist in Congress, compared DeSantis and Republican lawmakers’ actions this week regarding Disney to mob intimidation tactics.
“This is just low-life thuggery,” Rayner-Goolsby said, speaking alongside Crist. “There’s no other way I can say it.”
Democratic state Rep. Dianne Hart of Tampa said addressing Disney takes away from time that could be spent on housing.
“Mickey and Minnie deserve to be heard, and just because they didn’t say what the Governor wanted them to say … he exacts lots of pain, and that’s scary,” Hart said.
Crist also said lawmakers could be spending time on other issues, like gas prices. Instead, he asserted lawmakers have focused on culture war issues as speculation continues that DeSantis will run for President.
“I think it’s a miscalculation on his part that he’s so laser-focused on a Republican Primary in two years that he’s forgotten about this election this year,” Crist said.