Disney World’s governmental district is now officially under the control of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is appointing his own political donors and conservative activists to the district’s new board.
Control of the Reedy Creek Improvement District (which will eventually be renamed the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District) switched Monday as DeSantis signed a law he had championed to take over the district. The motivation for the change had been Disney’s public opposition to the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law in 2022, which said Florida schools cannot teach sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade or “in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate.”
DeSantis said that the new board members would be people who “want to see Disney be what Walt envisioned.”
“When you lose your way, you got to have people that are going to tell you the truth,” DeSantis said. “All these board members very much would like to see the type of entertainment that all families can appreciate.”
Those board members do not have experience in managing theme parks. Chairman Martin Garcia is a Tampa lawyer, who has donated $53,000 to DeSantis and chaired the campaign of Republican Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi in 2020.
Another board member, Bridget Ziegler, is the co-founder of Moms for Liberty, a conservative nonprofit which has advocated for removing books with LGBTQ+ representation from school libraries. She is also the wife of Florida Republican Party chair Christian Ziegler.
Other board members include Michael Sasso, president of the Orlando chapter of the conservative Federalist Society; Brian Aungst Jr., an attorney who serves on one of DeSantis’ judicial nominating committees; and Ron Peri, CEO of The Gathering USA ministry. The Orlando Sentinel reported that Peri has spoken in favor of Christian nationalism.
“They seem to be cultural warriors,” Richard Foglesong, a Rollins College professor who authored a book on Disney World called “Married to the Mouse,” told the Sentinel. “It is not clear to me the kind of people he appointed to Reedy Creek board are going to feel the need to work collaboratively with the business executives.”
Theme Park Tribune had previously asked DeSantis’ office whether the new board would seek to control content in Disney World’s rides, shows and attractions, but did not receive a response. The board’s first meeting is scheduled for March 8.
One of DeSantis’ guests during the bill signing was Nick Caturano, a Disney World employee who led small protests against the resort’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate (which never went into effect thanks to a Florida law) Caturano plugged his own website during his remarks, claiming its information “has aged pretty well, when in fact it falsely claims that COVID-19 vaccines have killed nearly 14,000 people.
Caturano said that by opposing the “Don’t Say Gay” law, Disney had “signaled that it’s OK to sexualize kids.”
Disney, for its part, has indicated it will not fight the new Reedy Creek structure. “We are focused on the future and are ready to work within this new framework, and we will continue to innovate, inspire and bring joy to the millions of guests who come to Florida to visit Walt Disney World each year,” Disney World president Jeff Vahle said in a statement earlier this month when the bill passed the Florida Legislature.