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Disney CEO Blasts Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for Being 'Anti-Business'

Disney CEO Blasts Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for Being 'Anti-Business'

Bob Iger
Photo by Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP

Gov. Ron DeSantis has gone after Disney after the company's rejection of the state's "don't say gay" law.

By Chris Isidore and Steve Contorno

(CNN) -- Disney CEO Bob Iger fought back against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis' actions against his company, telling Disney shareholders that recent actions by the state were "anti-business."

The state of Florida has taken action to strip Disney of some of the powers it had over the land that includes and surrounds Disney World. Florida's move came after the company objected to legislation passed last year to limit discussions of LGBTQ issues in Florida schools, a bill that opponents referred to as the "Don't Say Gay" law.

Iger, asked about the fight at the company's annual shareholders' meeting, made his most public defense to date of the company's actions, and the most direct criticism of Florida's actions.

"Our point on this is that any action that thwarts those efforts simply to retaliate for a position the company took sounds not just anti-business, but it sounds anti-Florida," he said.

Disney had operated for more than 50 years with broad power to control land use in and around its theme park. It did so through a self-governing body known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District, whose board members all had close ties with Disney.

But after the fight over the "don't say gay" bill last year, Florida initially tried disband the district, only to become aware that such a move could leave local governments in central Florida with more than $1 billion in liability for bond issues. So earlier this year it passed legislation that instead gave the state the authority to appoint the board members.

Last week the new board disclosed that the land-use powers of the re-named Orange County Tourism Oversight District had been stripped away before the law passed, and given directly to Disney through an agreement with Reedy Creek. That set off a new round of criticism by state officials, including DeSantis, who has been a vocal critic of Disney's actions.

On Monday, DeSantis ordered a state investigation into the outgoing board in charge of Disney's special taxing district, his latest counterattack in the ongoing battle against the entertainment giant.

In a letter to Florida's Chief Inspector General Melina Miguel, DeSantis accused the Reedy Creek Improvement District board of "collusive and self-dealing arrangements," and unspecified ethical violations for taking actions that appeared to thwart his efforts to take over the board. Separately, DeSantis' office said in a statement that "all legislative options are back on the table" as his administration seeks to claw back power and potentially retaliate against Disney.

"Disney is again fighting to keep its special corporate benefits and dodge Florida law," DeSantis spokesman Jeremy Redfern said. "We are not going to let that happen. As Governor DeSantis recently said, 'You ain't seen nothing yet.'"

Redfern's comments came before Iger made his comments at the shareholders' meeting. CNN has reached out to DeSantis' office for comment on Iger's remarks.

Disney took a position against the so-called "don't say gay" bill after some Disney employees called on it to speak out against the legislation. Iger said the Disney may "not have handled the position it took very well."

"We love the state of Florida," Iger said. "I think that's reflected in not only how much we've invested over the last 50 years, but how much we've given back in jobs and community service, taxes, tourism, of course. We've also always appreciated what the state has done for us. It's been a two-way street."

But Iger said it was wrong for the state to retaliate against Disney for taking its position.

"The company has a right to freedom of speech just like individuals do," Iger said. "The governor got very angry about the position that Disney took, and it seems like he's decided to retaliate against us... in effect to seek to punish a company for its exercise of a constitutional right. And that just seems really wrong to me -- against any company or individual, but particularly against a company that means so much to the state that you live in."

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