“Disney will be fine,” former Florida Congressman David Jolly told The Washington Post, “But what [stripping Disney of its special Tax status] does is show Americans that Ron DeSantis is a governor with a glass jaw who cannot tolerate criticism. That’s what this is about, nothing more than that.”
David Jolly is right that Ron DeSantis is proving his insecurity (every day) with his rash of spiteful legislation in Florida. But, this story is about something more than his personal insecurity. For one thing:
Since when has it been constitutional for a US governor to retaliate against a private business for exercising their First Amendment right to free speech?
A quick refresher for those out there (like me!) who really only hear about 1A in the context of online Twitter or Facebook arguments, from such Constitutional experts as my Uncle Bill, or my neighbor lady whose yard is overgrown but whose porch is flapping with blue Trump flags:
“The First Amendment protects us against government limits on our freedom of expression, but it doesn’t prevent a private employer from setting its own rules.”
“The First Amendment prevents government from requiring you to say something you don’t want to, or keeping you from hearing or reading the words of others (even if you never speak out yourself, you have the right to receive information).”
But, so, critically, 1A explicitly protects private citizens and businesses from being targeted by the government for free speech. Not the other way around. (i.e. it does not protect the Government from the speech of its citizens.)
Which means that the First Amendment definitely does not protect Governor Ron DeSantis from having his feelings hurt by the Walt Disney Corporation.
And yet, DeSantis seems to be going out of his way to make clear that stripping Disney of its special, “Reedy Creek Improvement District,” enacted in 1967, was meant as revenge on Disney for exercising its 1A right to free speech.
How do we know that?
Well, Gov. DeSantis is actually fundraising off his unconstitutional coercion of Disney, a private business he’d like to force into silence about Florida’s recent spate of openly homophobic legislation.
In an email sent over the weekend to supporters, with the subject line “They chose the wrong guy,” DeSantis wrote: ““Disney thought they ruled Florida. They even tried to attack me to advance their woke agenda. Now, parents see Disney for what it is. And now is the time to put the power back in the hands of Floridians and out of the pockets of woke executives.”
(For context, the Reedy Creek Improvement District was a special tax and oversight exemption designed by the state of Florida in ‘67 to “entice Disney to build a theme park 20 miles south of Orlando”: “Reedy Creek gives Disney considerable sway over the planning and permitting process for construction on its vast property, including road building. Reedy Creek also levies taxes on Disney to pay for the resort’s own fire and medical response battalions, among other services. Disney World even generates some of its own electricity through Reedy Creek.”)
So, maybe, Ol’ “Glass Jaw” DeSantis just doesn’t understand 1A?
Because here’s Vox reporting that DeSantis move is blatantly unconstitutional: “As the Supreme Court said in Hartman v. Moore (2006), “official reprisal for protected speech ‘offends the Constitution [because] it threatens to inhibit exercise of the protected right.’” Nor does it matter how the government retaliates against a person or business who expresses an opinion that the government does not like — any official retaliation against someone because they engaged in First Amendment-protected speech is unconstitutional.”
And, unconstitutional or not, Florida’s revocation of Reedy Creek is poised to cost Florida taxpayers major dollars. “It’s a complicated story,” explained Joel Mathis of Yahoo!News, “but the gist of it is that revoking Disney’s tax district essentially puts area residents on the hook for more than $1 billion in bonds the company used to pay for things like water service and new roads on its land. Local homeowners could see their taxes jump by 20 percent as a result.”
Yet we’re seeing very little in the way of direct and clear language calling a spade a spade. “Disney and Ron DeSantis Clash” reads a headline in The Wall Street Journal. “Ron DeSantis Seeks to Dissolve Disney World’s Special Status” reads one in The Washington Post. But it’s not a “clash” or a “feud,” or even a “fight.” It’s an obviously unconstitutional abuse of power by a Governor engaging in performative politics, seeking a spotlight from Fox News, wanting nothing more than to engage his base.