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Former Congressman David Jolly criticizes Gov. DeSantis' dealings with Disney


After Disney spoke out against the Parental Rights in Education law in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis went after the company's special legal arrangement with the state that dates back to 1967, allowing Disney to essentially be self-governed in central Florida.

David Jolly served in Congress as a Republican representing the St. Petersburg area from 2014-2017. He became an independent after losing his re-election bid.

Reporter Tom Hudson talked to Jolly about the power struggle between Disney and DeSantis.

Hudson: The governor's office says that doing away with these independent special districts is merely leveling the playing field.

Jolly: It's garbage.

Hudson: You don't buy that?

Jolly: Complete garbage.

Hudson: You find it to be what?

Jolly: The real input here is the reactive nature of the legislature. If our Republican legislators and the governor said on conservative principles, we believe that there should not be special taxing districts, fine, that's a public policy proposal that might actually have a majority of public opinion on its side. That is not what happened here. And this was because Disney spoke out. I believe in many ways, it represents a form of public corruption, using the powers of the state to punish a corporate actor.

Hudson: That could be taken as a pretty serious charge.

Jolly: And I mean it, and as an attorney, I would say if the parties were situated differently in that if it was an individual, not a corporation, or if there was a pure tie to campaign finance laws, government actors cannot take public retribution against a private actor. And so what happened here, Disney spoke out with criticism. But, Tom, Disney also said, we're going to pause our political giving. And what happened when they did that, the governor said, I'm going to use my power to come down on you, and to situate your tax status in the state of Florida differently, because you spoke out against me. And because you said you were going to stop giving me campaign money. That's graft. And I do believe it's public corruption, probably not in a true legal sense of the word that the prosecutors could bring a case, but I do think that's the biggest danger.

Hudson: My final question, David, gets to what I've referred to as the ultimate Disney consumer, which is not a voter in Florida, which is not a Disney employee. It is not even an adult. Right? How do you think that voice plays in to this situation?

Jolly: If you look at some of the greatest social justices that have been worked through among our country, there's often a seed that was planted either in the arts or in entertainment, wherever that might be. Look at the introduction of the LGBT community to American culture. There were breakthrough TV moments. It didn't happen in the pulpits of our churches, it didn't happen in the halls of our legislature. It happened because we found this way culturally to begin to let some walls down, and to begin to look at our culture in a way we hadn't looked at it in the past. And so the one sympathy I perhaps have for Disney — or the most important support I would give them — is that I think they have a role in bringing kids and families along into the culture that we can be not the culture that we used to be. And I think that's something that's overlooked and hangs in the balance in the current debate.

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In a journalism career covering news from high global finance to neighborhood infrastructure, Tom Hudson is the Vice President of News and Special Correspondent for WLRN. He hosts and produces the Sunshine Economy and anchors the Florida Roundup in addition to leading the organization's news engagement strategy.