Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis argues that his battle with the Walt Disney Co. offers an example of how the GOP should deal with Big Business since “old-guard corporate Republicanism” is too impotent to fight woke corporations.
The Republican governor recounted his yearlong fight with the entertainment giant in an opinion article published by The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.
That was a day after DeSantis signed a bill that stripped Disney of its self-governing district in Central Florida — an area nearly as big as Miami, where Disney exercised exclusive quasi-governmental power for the last 56 years.
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Those powers included the authority to assess its own property valuations, bypass state building and fire-prevention codes, build a nuclear power plant, or even use eminent domain to seize private property outside its boundaries.
“While special districts are common in Florida, Disney’s deal was conspicuous in the massive benefits it conferred. Disney’s self-governing status endured because the company’s unrivaled political power in Florida made its arrangement virtually untouchable,” DeSantis wrote.
Now, he added, the company “has to live under the same laws as Universal Studios, SeaWorld and every other company in our state and is still on the hook for the old district’s municipal debt.”
DeSantis went on to point out that “for more than 50 years, the state of Florida put Disney on a pedestal.”
Yet that changed last year when Disney bowed to internal pressure and opposed Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act, which prohibits school districts and classroom teachers from implementing lesson plans based on sexuality and gender ideology in grades K-3.
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“Disney executives were seen on videos boasting about the company’s plans to inject sexuality into its programming for children,” DeSantis noted. “Democrats often rail about corporations’ nefarious influence over politics and oppose favorable exceptions for big companies. Yet they supported keeping Disney’s special self-governing status. This confirms how much the modern left has jettisoned principle in favor of power.”
“As long as large corporations help advance the left’s woke agenda, the left is willing to do their bidding.”
The governor continued that he was repeatedly asked why Disney would “tarnish its family-friendly brand, built up over almost 100 years, by publicly aligning itself with the fringe left’s agenda to limit the rights of parents to have a say in what is taught to very young children.”
“The answer,” he added, ‘lies in how the left has pressured big companies like Disney to use their power to advance the woke political agenda.”
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DeSantis argued that CEOs and directors of big companies owe a fiduciary duty to shareholders, and that runs inconsistent with “allowing the company to be turned into a partisan political fighting machine.” Most CEOs and directors, he said, understand that they “seldom benefit from taking positions on contentious political issues, particularly those unrelated to their businesses.”
But a new calculus has emerged.
For one thing, left-wing employees at some corporations want their employer to reflect their own political values, DeSantis wrote.
“Such employees aren’t a majority,” he added, ‘but they are loud and militant.” And efforts to placate them only backfire as the workers become emboldened and entitled “to presume that their employer will fall into line in the next political battle,” DeSantis noted.
“The inmates soon run the asylum.”
Another factor is power.
A “woke CEO can use the corporate bully pulpit to exert influence over society,” as we see with the push for environmental, social, and governance (ESG) responsibility in corporate America. “ESG is a way for the left to achieve through corporate power what it can’t get at the ballot box,” said DeSantis.
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Florida, however, understands the ESG’s implications, and is acting accordingly. That includes:
- Prohibiting the state’s pension fund managers from using ESG criteria when making investment decisions
- Pooling with other like-minded states to create a potent anti-ESG voting bloc
- Codifying anti-ESG initiatives into law, as will happen in the coming legislative session
- Protecting Floridians from discrimination by large financial institutions on the basis of political or religious beliefs.
“The regrettable upshot of the woke ascendancy is that publicly traded corporations have become combatants in battles over American politics and culture, almost invariably siding with leftist causes,” DeSantis wrote.
“It is unthinkable that large companies would side with conservative Americans on the Second Amendment, the right to life, election integrity or religious liberty.”
Accordingly, he said, “In this environment, old-guard corporate Republicanism isn’t up to the task at hand.”
“For decades, GOP elected officials have campaigned on free-market principles but governed as corporatists—supporting subsidies, tax breaks and legislative carve-outs to confer special benefits on entrenched corporate interests. But policies that benefit corporate America don’t necessarily serve the interests of America’s people and economy.”
“When corporations try to use their economic power to advance a woke agenda, they become political, and not merely economic, actors,” continued DeSantis. “In such an environment, reflexively deferring to big business effectively surrenders the political battlefield to the militant left. Having private companies wield de facto public power isn’t in the best interests of most Americans.”
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He concluded, “Woke ideology is a form of cultural Marxism. Leaders must stand up and fight back when big corporations make the mistake, as Disney did, of using their economic might to advance a political agenda.”
“We are making Florida the state where the economy flourishes because we are the state where woke goes to die.”
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