DeSantis appoints political backers to new Disney oversight board


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Disney has already said publicly it is not planning a legal challenge to the DeSantis-championed legislation, which also stripped the company of its ability to operate its own airport or nuclear power plant — authority it has never used.

It’s the end of a nearly yearlong political fight after DeSantis called a special session in April 2022 to do away with the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the name of the special district that gave Disney self-governing status, after the entertainment giant issued a statement opposing legislation that banned the discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms up until third grade. The bill was prominently referred to as “Don’t Say Gay.”

The most prominent name DeSantis appointed Monday to the board of the district, which the new law renames the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, is Bridget Ziegler, a conservative education activist who was a major backer of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. She is also a DeSantis-endorsed Sarasota County School Board member and co-founder of “Mom’s for Liberty,” a group that helps train and recruit conservatives to run for school boards.

Her husband, Christian, was recently elected chair of the Republican Party of Florida.

DeSantis picked Tampa attorney Martin Garcia to serve as the board’s new chairman. Garcia runs the investment firm Pinehill Capital Partners, which gave a DeSantis’ aligned political committee $50,000.

DeSantis also appointed Brian Aungst Jr., a prominent Pinellas County Republican attorney who DeSantis previously appointed to the 6th circuit judicial nominating commission; Mike Sasso, a Winter Park attorney who DeSantis has appointed to a handful of boards over the years; and Ron Peri, an Orlando-area businessman who runs The Gathering, a ministry focused on “discipleship and outreach to men.”

State Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat who has been a leading critic of the changes, blasted the new board.

“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 did today,” she said.

She specifically noted that Garcia’s company gave $50,000 to DeSantis and his name appeared on records tied to the administration’s search for local state attorneys who espouse progressive political beliefs. The search ultimately led to the suspension of Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren.

“It’s important to note that the bulk of today’s appointees are extreme and political donors,” Eskamani added.

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