Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has based his campaign for president around his so-called “war on woke.” This is an attempt to play to conservatives by damning companies and people who make an effort to support inclusivity or celebrate people who are part of traditionally marginalized groups.
This has put the governor at war with Walt Disney (DIS) – Get Free Report, the largest economic driver in his state after the theme park giant’s former CEO publicly took a stand against a piece of DeSantis’ legislation. The governor could have shared his objections to the company’s public stand privately, but he instead chose to make the issue personal.
That led to DeSantis taking over the Reedy Creek Improvement District RDIC, a Special District that had been controlled by Disney. The governor portrayed this as him taking taking away special treatment from the company in order to be fair to other businesses.
Disney CEO Bob Iger shot down any idea that DeSantis was just leveling the playing field during his company’s second-quarter earnings call.
“Also, this is not about special privileges or a level playing field or Disney in any way using its leverage around the state of Florida. But since there’s been a lot said about special districts and the arrangement that we have I want to set the record straight on that too. There are about 2,000 special districts in Florida. Most are established to foster investor development — we were one of them,” he said.
Iger noted that the Daytona Speedway and The Villages retirement community — two businesses that tend to be right-leaning — both also have special districts.
“If the goal is leveling the playing field in the uniform application of the law or government oversight of special districts needs to occur or be applied to all special districts,” he added.
DeSantis, however, seems to like to pick and choose his fights and who he holds accountable for what. That appears to be happening as he’s jumping into the Anheuser-Busch (BUD) – Get Free Report Bud Light controversy, but he’s ignoring his own actions which have had a similar, but bigger, impact on the state pension that he says he’s aiming to protect.
Iger has not hesitated to accuse DeSantis of playing politics.
DeSantis Threatens Anheuser-Busch
“We’ve kneecapped ESG in Florida. So I’m calling for an investigation into AB InBev’s actions regarding their Bud Light marketing campaign and falling stock prices. All options are on the table and woke corporations that put ideology ahead of returns should be on notice,” the governor shared in a July 21 Tweet.
DeSantis accuses the brand of “associating with radical ideologies” in a letter that accompanies the Tweet.
He is, of course, referring to the company’s decision to partner with transgender social media influencer Dylan Mulvaney for a small marketing campaign.
DeSantis has threatened to file what’s known as a “derivative lawsuit” against Anheuser-Busch. That’s a lawsuit alleging that a company’s board or officers breached their duties to shareholders.
“At the end of March, Florida’s pension fund held more than 682,000 shares of AB InBev [Anheuser-Busch] valued at the time at nearly $46 million. The company’s stock price has fallen since then from $66 a share to $58, though it’s still higher than its 52-week low of $44 from September 2022, which was well before the company’s recent controversies,” CNN noted.
DeSantis and Florida Have a Putin Problem
While DeSantis wants to sue the parent of Bud Light over its marketing decisions, others have questions about some of Florida’s choices under his leadership.
A member of the Florida state legislature, Democrat Andrew Learned (D-Brandon), called out DeSantis in May over the state’s investments in Russia.
“Florida’s Retirement System LOST over $200m in our Russian Investments after refusing to divest our holdings when I called for it over two months ago. Turns out, backing #Putin and his war crimes in #Ukraine wasn’t just bad for freedom, it was a bad investment too,” he tweeted.
Shortly after the invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and other state lawmakers requested DeSantis formally end the state’s involvement with Russian businesses through the state’s pension fund,” WFLA reported.
In March, Learned proposed an amendment to the state’s appropriation bill that would have forced it to sell those investments. That amendment failed in the Republican-controlled body.
“Reminder: still crickets from Florida GOP about divesting our Russian investments,” Learned tweeted at the time.
Florida has not sold those investments, which are down significantly more than the state’s Anheuser-Busch holdings. DeSantis has not called for any legal action examining those decisions in relation to the state’s pension fund.