LOS ANGELES, April 3 (Reuters) – Walt Disney Co ( DIS.N ) Chief Executive Bob Iger fired back at Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis on Monday, saying his apparent retaliation against Disney was “anti-business.” “
After initially trying to remain neutral, Disney opposed the Florida Parents’ Rights in Education Act – dubbed by opponents the “Don’t Say Gay” bill – which restricts school discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Shortly after, DeSantis and the Florida legislature moved to abolish the company’s virtual autonomy, which surrounded Walt Disney’s more than 24,000-acre (9,712-hectare) property in Orlando.
Iger, in response to a question at the company’s annual shareholder meeting, said Disney may not have handled its position on the proposal well, but added that corporations have the right to express their views. Seeing him, DeSantis said, “I decided against us.”
“To ask that a company be punished for exercising a constitutional right, which seems fair, to me is really wrong,” Iger said.
He also noted that Disney employs 75,000 people in the state and will welcome 50 million guests to Disney World this year. Disney plans to deepen its investment in Florida, spending $17 billion over the next decade and creating an additional 13,000 jobs.
“These efforts are simply retaliation for the position the company has taken that sounds not only anti-business, but sounds anti-Florida,” Iger said.
In February, Florida lawmakers supported a bill that would have given DeSantis effective board authority to oversee development in the special tax district. The president signed the bill into law and named five executives to have the presidency where Disney would operate with the highest degree of autonomy.
Before being taken over by the DeSantis’ organization, Disney pushed through changes to limit board activities for decades. On Monday, DeSantis asked Florida’s attorney general to investigate what he described as Disney’s last-minute attempt to usurp “authority” over the release of the new poster.
“These sweeping and self-imposed provisions are intended to destroy recently passed laws, Florida’s legislative process, and defy the will of Floridians,” DeSantis wrote in a letter seen by Reuters.
At Disney’s shareholder meeting, one attendee said the company has gone from a place of “magical children” to an “ideological company serving the LGBTQ” community, which has “incited an agenda.”
Iger said he felt that criticism.
“Our first mission should be to be mindful… and to have a positive impact on the world,” he said. “I’m very serious about that. The agenda should not be discussed.”
Iger said he knows “parents have different comfort levels” with Disney content, adding that “we believe in delivering appropriate content for family audiences while also telling stories that reflect the world around us and foster a greater understanding. A greater perspective, a greater acceptance of all people.”
Disney backed eleven nominees to the company’s board, including Iger and Chairman Mark Parker, Nike’s ( NKE.N ) executive chairman and former CEO, who is replacing retiring chairman Susan Arnold at Disney.
They rejected a proposal by shareholders who asked for Disney to provide an annual report on China’s reliance on raw materials, finished products, revenue and theme park employment.
The participants also filed a petition asking the company to provide more information about the almsgiving.
Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Bill Berkrot
Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.