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Florida Gov. DeSantis, Disney butting heads on LGBTQ issue

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Disney World is suspending its political donations in Florida after the company’s CEO received huge blowback for not using Disney’s vast influence in the state to try to quash a recently passed Republican bill that would prevent teachers from instructing early grades on LGBTQ issues.

Shortly after, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis accused the company of being friendly with communist China.

Democratic state Rep. Anna Eskamani tweeted screenshots from an email Disney CEO Bob Chapek sent to employees saying the company was wrong to stay silent on the issue before the Republican-dominated Legislature passed what opponents have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

Chapek said the bill was a challenge to human rights and apologized. Meanwhile, DeSantis sent a campaign fundraising email that said, “Disney is in far too deep with the Communist Party of China and has lost any moral authority to tell you what to do.”

The governor’s action stunned Republicans and Democrats. Disney is a tourist attraction that is a multi-billion dollar economic driver for the state. When people think of Florida, they think of oranges, beaches and Disney.

Disney has contributed huge amounts of money to Florida’s political parties and politicians, and has wielded incredible influence on the state’s government.

“The weird hypocrisy of Florida politics right now is DeSantis has been happy to take Disney’s money, but to pass a bill that’s anathema to the values of their customers and their institution and to use the power of government to beat up on them — the old days of Florida Republicans being the free market party are well and truly past,” said Rick Wilson, a political operative who has supported Republicans in the past, but has spoken out against the culture war many Republicans are creating.

A Republican legislator, who didn’t want to be named because the legislator didn’t want to speak publicly against the governor, said that Disney is the number three top contributor to Republican candidates. The company has donated millions to Republicans, both directly to candidate and the party and through political committees that support them in donations that can’t be traced.

Disney has also donated to Democrats. But what’s unusual about DeSantis’ attack is that he’s trying to silence a corporation that is an enormous part of the state’s economy, and critics say he’s doing so as part of a culture war that will help him win the Republican primary to be the 2024 presidential nominee.

“It’s really pretty shocking,” said former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, who is now a Democratic congressman seeking to challenge DeSantis.

Crist said that the governor is attacking industries important to Florida, like DeSantis’ legal battle with cruise lines who wanted passengers to show they were vaccinated for coronavirus.

“Now it’s Disney. Who’s next on the hit list for this governor?” Crist said.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, whose district includes parts of Disney, also questioned the governor’s attack on Disney..

“This is another strike in the hate agenda that Governor DeSantis is pushing right now,” Soto said, adding that the state’s budget is hugely reliant on the sales tax Disney and other theme parks generate for the state.

“Now he’s putting that in jeopardy because he wants to attack LGBTQ families, families that make up a fundamental part of the Disney atmosphere,” Soto said.

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