DeSantis appoints 'Moms for Liberty' co-founder to new Disney World governing board
Gov Ron DeSantis nominates conservative activists, Republican political donors to lead new board that will oversee Walt Disney World's operations
Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday appointed five people to lead the new board that will govern the district housing Walt Disney World, putting the final nail in the coffin of Disney's self-governing power after the company took a public stand against Florida's "Parental Rights in Education" law, misleadingly labeled "Don't Say Gay" by critics.
DeSantis announced the board members at the signing ceremony for legislation that renames the Reedy Creek Improvement District, where Disney World is located, as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and establishes a board with term-limited members to oversee its operations. The members include prominent Florida lawyers and conservative activists, some of whom have made contributions to his campaign or political action committee.
"We have people that want to see Disney be what Walt envisioned," DeSantis said at a press conference held at a firehouse inside the special district in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
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One of DeSantis' noteworthy appointees is Bridget Ziegler, a conservative Sarasota County School board member and co-founder of "Moms for Liberty," an activist group that holds schools accountable to parents and recruits and trains conservative candidates to run for school board. Her husband, Christian, is the Florida Republican Party chairman.
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DeSantis previously endorsed Ziegler to run for school board, and she has publicly defended Florida's "Parental Rights" law, which prohibits schools from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms up through third grade.
Disney took sides against the "Parental Rights" law under pressure from left-wing activists, which provoked DeSantis to call for a reexamination of the company's special privileges in Florida, ultimately leading the state legislature to strip Disney World of its self-governing status during a special session this year.
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The appointed chairman of the board is Martin Garcia, a Tampa-based attorney and business owner. His law firm, Pinehill Capital Partners, donated $50,000 to the "Friends of Ron DeSantis" political committee last year.
Other appointees include Ron Peri of Orlando, a former pastor and founder of The Gathering, a forum for Christian "discipleship and outreach to men," Michael Sasso, a Winter Park attorney and DeSantis campaign donor, and Brian Aungst Jr., a Pinellas County Republican attorney who DeSantis previously appointed to the 6th circuit judicial nominating commission.
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Democratic state Rep. Anna Eskamani, a vocal critic of the governor who represents the Orlando area, blasted DeSantis' appointees as "hostile conservative cronies" in a scathing statement on the new law.
"It’s absolutely wild to see a self-proclaimed capitalist like DeSantis celebrate the government takeover of a private board which is exactly what the Governor just did today," Eskamani said.
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"It's important to note that the bulk of today's appointees are extreme and political donors," she added, pointing to Garcia's $50,000 donation to DeSantis and noting that he was connected to the DeSantis administration's effort to identify progressive prosecutors like Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren, who DeSantis suspended last year for "neglect of duty."
DeSantis's appointees must be confirmed by the Florida Senate, where Republicans hold a supermajority.