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Florida Gov. DeSantis said he may put a prison next to Disney parks amid dispute


In Florida this week, Governor Ron DeSantis ratcheted up his attacks on the Walt Disney Company. DeSantis is a likely Republican presidential contender, and he is angry at a legal maneuver that Disney pulled off just before a new board took control of its special district. A last-minute agreement with the outgoing board preserved Disney's development rights and control over its theme parks, and DeSantis says the state will now take action to nullify that agreement. And he says he is considering what to do with some of the district land next to Disney World, including possibly building a prison. OK. Wow. NPR's Greg Allen has been following all of this and joins us now from Miami. Hi, Greg.


CHANG: OK. So is DeSantis serious about building a prison next to Disney World?

ALLEN: Well, probably not. You know, there's quite a bit of trolling going on here, but it's clear that this is all very personal for the governor. And here's what he had to say earlier this week.


RON DESANTIS: What should we do with this land? And so, you know, it's like, OK, kids - I mean, people have said, you know, maybe have another - maybe create a state park. Maybe try to do more amusement parks. Someone even said, like, maybe you need another state prison. Who knows? I mean, I just think that the possibilities are endless.

CHANG: Wow. It sounds like he's just teasing them. Remind us what this is all about. Like, why is Governor DeSantis so angry with Disney, which is, by the way, one of the largest employers in the state, right?

ALLEN: Right, exactly. Well, up to now, Disney has always been treated with kid gloves by elected officials because of its economic and political clout. But - and here's a fun fact. DeSantis was actually married at Disney World.

CHANG: Oh, my God (laughter).

ALLEN: But last year he became angry after Disney's CEO said he'd work to undo a parental rights and education bill in Florida, the one that critics call don't say gay. Because of that, DeSantis pushed the Republican-controlled legislature to dissolve a special district created 55 years ago for Disney, which gave it self-governing authority. DeSantis was involved in renaming the district. He appointed a new board. But in one of the board's last acts, it signed an agreement with Disney World containing restrictive covenants that severely limit the new board's ability to do anything that affects the theme parks or how the company operates.

CHANG: Well, can DeSantis and the Florida legislature undo that agreement?

ALLEN: Well, that remains to be seen. Disney says its agreement complies with Florida law. Tomorrow DeSantis' new hand-picked district board is meeting and plans to pass a resolution revoking that development agreement, but many are skeptical that that resolution will carry any weight. Because of that, DeSantis says, a legislature soon will take up a bill nullifying the agreement. He also says the state will lift Disney's exemption from state inspections of its rides and attractions, including its monorail.

CHANG: And what has Disney said about all this so far?

ALLEN: Well, not much recently other than a statement about the ride inspection, saying the company has been an industry leader on safety. At a shareholder meeting earlier this month, Disney CEO Bob Iger called DeSantis' retaliation anti-business and anti-Florida. And it does seem likely that the dispute is headed for court and may actually end up before the U.S. Supreme Court eventually.

CHANG: Really? Wow. OK. Well, as we mentioned, DeSantis may enter the contest for the Republican presidential nomination. Do you think, Greg, that a protracted battle with Disney will help him with that?

ALLEN: Well, it's very puzzling. It's hard to see how it does. DeSantis is popular with Republicans in Florida who like his confrontational approach, but taking on things like drag shows and transgender teens is not the same thing as attacking a powerful and popular entertainment giant like Disney. Some of DeSantis' possible opponents in the race for presidential nomination are taking note. On his social media site, former President Trump said DeSantis is, quote, "being absolutely destroyed by Disney."

CHANG: All right.

ALLEN: Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who also may enter the race, says based on DeSantis' actions against Disney, he doesn't think the governor is a conservative. But it's always personal with him, and up to now, he's mostly gotten wins in his battles here. It doesn't seem like he's likely to back down against Disney.

CHANG: That is NPR's Greg Allen. Thank you, Greg.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.