President Joe Biden garnered a few obligatory laughs from his fellow Democrats, within the media and outside the industry, with comments about Florida at the White House Correspondents’ Association banquet last weekend.
To recap, Biden commented on Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law, which come July 1 will forbid school districts and classroom teachers from implementing lesson plans rooted in sexual orientation or gender identity.
“A lot of people say the Republican Party is too extreme, too divisive, too controlled by one person,” Biden said. “They say it’s not your father’s Republican Party.”
Well, according to The Wall Street Journal, there is one group that is not laughing at the pitchfork brigades who suddenly are being heard:
“In private meetings and coaching sessions over the past few weeks, top business leaders have been asking a version of the same question: How can we avoid becoming the next Walt Disney Co.?” the Journal reported on Sunday.
“The fallout from the recent political spat between Disney and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has alarmed leaders across the corporate sphere, according to executives and their advisers, and heightened the challenges for chief executive officers navigating charged topics.”
To recap that moment, Disney was largely silent about Florida’s law and it was processed in the legislative sausage factory. After it passed, CEO Bob Chapek criticized it. The company then announced it “should never” have become law, and that Disney would fight to repeal it in the Legislature or overturn it in the courts.
DeSantis, a Republican, and GOP lawmakers in the Legislature responded by scrapping Disney’s special home-rule protection. That allowed Disney to essentially operate its own government over its 38-square-mile kingdom.
The death of George Floyd in police custody only accelerated a trend whereby Fortune 500 companies had no qualms about criticizing Republican legislation they didn’t like or taking positions on issues that they felt would win over angry and voluble liberals, who have the national media and social media as a megaphone.
Republicans had little recourse beyond largely symbolic gestures. In Georgia, for example, after Coca-Cola denounced a GOP election-integrity law, Republican lawmakers announced they were removing products by Atlanta-based Coke from their offices.
Then along came DeSantis.
As the Journal put it, “At many companies, vocal employees have in recent years pushed bosses to take public stands on social and political issues. Florida’s pushback against Disney has raised the stakes.”
The controversy is relatively simple, according to the Journal. “Democrats have pushed executives to weigh in, and Republicans have pushed them to keep out.”
But one source told the Journal that the fallout of DeSantis’ shaving Disney’s lucrative home-rule status has made other CEOs hesitant to suddenly, and nearly reflexively, embrace liberal politics.
“Some executives might be relieved,” the Journal added. “The old idea that CEOs should focus on shareholder returns and stay out of politics lingers in some corporate suites, even in a politicized age of public social-media discussions and more-activist workforces.”
“Certainly the consequences of weighing in appear to be changing. … Disney’s experience shows a willingness [by conservatives] to go further, corporate advisers say, by challenging arrangements that have helped a company to operate.”
“Disney’s recent experience in Florida has captured the attention of C-suite executives at companies big and small, given the impact on its operations, many say.”